Row over Hertfordshire County Council ‘misleading’ incinerator article

ANTI-INCINERATOR campaigners have lodged a complaint against Hertfordshire County Council over a magazine article that they claim gave “subjective and misleading information” on waste disposal.

Activist groups from across Hertfordshire say a feature that appeared in the winter edition of Horizons, the council’s official newsletter, broke Government guidelines on local authority publications on nine separate counts.

Now the groups – including Herts Without Waste, Hatfield Against Incineration and the Welwyn Hatfield Green Party – have formally complained to the Department for Communities and Local Government, saying the article presented highly contentious issues as facts, and was misleading on how the incinerator would work and the money it would save.

The article, entitled “The future of Hertfordshire’s waste” focused on the Energy from Waste process, stating the method of disposal had “been identified as the best way for Hertfordshire to deal with this waste in an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable and safe manner”.

But opponents say that, at the time of publication, a public consultation on the waste core strategy was still in progress.

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The article also included an illustration of the process, which complainants deemed neither “objective or fully informative”.

David Ashton, of Herts Without Waste, said: “The council seems to be more interested in publishing subjective and misleading information than in properly informing people about what’s happening.

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“Ratepayers are paying for this magazine, so they deserve to be told the truth.”

An updated Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity is currently going through Parliament. It states: “Local authorities should ensure that publicity relating to their own policies and proposals are not designed to be (or are not likely to be interpreted as) aimed at influencing the public’s opinions about the policies of the authority.”

Local Government minister and Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps said he hoped the updated code would ensure local authorities distributed “real information” in their publications.

“Local authorities should be really careful to ensure they’re not competing with independent and commercial publications, and also that they’re putting out real information and not simply propaganda on behalf of the council,” he said.

A council spokeswoman said: “We have been contacted by groups campaigning against a new waste facility and we will respond to concerns about the article in full in due course.”

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