Community groups opposed to controversial waste infrastructure “probably can’t” be won over, Viridor external affairs manager Dan Cooke has warned.
Speaking on the second day of the RWM in association with CIWM exhibition at a practitioner session entitled ‘Can community groups ever be won over?’, Cooke, right, said that in most debates, developers should focus on those who are “open minded” and have not made up their mind rather than those who are already opposed to the facilities.
“It can be argued that too much time spent directly dealing with opposition groups and their activity is actually dead time, as most recognise they have an inherent interest and they are a noisy minority and don’t necessarily represent the wider view.”
Cooke explained that Viridor consultation and communication principles for waste infrastructure include early consultation, giving community representatives adequate time to “digest arguments” and allowing the flexibility to change plans accordingly if “quality concerns are put forward”.
He added that consultations should also be sensitive, responsive to community issues and not dismissive, and that the debate must be recorded as it develops.
“Experience shows some parties from opposition groups can be won over to a degree once the facility is built and operated to high standards.
“Many become active members of liaison groups and in the best, albeit rare, cases some stalwart members of opposition groups can become advocates of the facilities they opposed once they’re up and running.”
MRW subsequently received the following letter from Edmund Schluessel, secretary, Cardiff Against the Incinerator:
“If waste companies want a genuine dialogue with communities, they must deal with those communities in an open and forthright fashion. Mr Cooke and Viridor have not. When Cardiff Against the Incinerator began campaigning against Viridor’s plans for an EfW plant, the most common response it got from residents was “what incinerator?” Viridor’s “outreach” efforts had been poorly-publicised and the Environment Agency, we later found, believes them to be insufficient.
Our executive includes a university lecturer in biology and we pride ourselves in tracing every claim we make to peer-reviewed papers in established scientific journals. It dismays us when Viridor actively distributes pseudo-scientific material such as “The Environmental and Health Impacts of Energy from Waste: The myths and the truth?” by Hammond & Broomfield to public authorities, poisoning real discussion before it can begin. It further dismayed us when Mr Cooke refused to withdraw these papers.
Our attempts at dialogue with Mr Cooke have been met with offers which never materialise, such as a tour of an EfW facility and attacks on the executive, such as the claim that we are “politically motivated”. We have now begun a campaign of direct action: tell me, what other route have Viridor left open to us?