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ASA: Sita misled public over incinerator claims

ASA uphold complaints against Sita for misleading Shepperton ‘Eco Park’ marketing material SITA reliability and technology claims

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has today (26th October 2011) released their final review of the complaint regarding the October 2010 Newsletter from Sita UK Ltd. The complaint detailed misleading information supplied by Sita to residents about a proposal for an incinerator at Charlton Lane, Shepperton.

UKWIN member group Spelthorne Against the Eco Park (SATEP) has long argued that the information Sita provided to the public has at best been scant and as now proven, in the worst case, misleading.

The language Sita used in this particular newsletter has been reviewed by the ASA who have upheld complaints relating to Sita claims of “proven technology” and Sita’s reference to similar sites “operating successfully”.

The ASA ruling calls into question not only the advice being given to the planning officers and councillors in Spelthorne and Surrey Councils, but also the information being provided to the public such that they cannot make an informed decision.

SATEP along with local resident associations of Charlton Village and Lower Sunbury oppose the inappropriate development being proposed by Sita on a number of grounds, and more details can be found at the respective websites:

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld three out of five complaints made by a Shepperton resident against Sita’s October 2010 “Eco Park” Newsletter. SITA claimed that their proposed gasification facility would use “proven technology” and that their reference sites were “operating successfully”.

The original ASA decision in May 2011 upheld one complaint pertaining to misleading imagery depicting the planned development. However, following an independent review of those findings the ASA has now upheld two more of the original complaints for “misleading advertising, substantiation and environmental claims”.

Speaking after the revised ASA ruling, complainant Tracy Harris said she was “very pleased” with the outcome, but indicated that she remained concerned that Sita had continued to convey similar misleading information to the wider public in subsequent material, community liaison and planning meetings.

Had residents been made aware of the real implications this facility will bring to Spelthorne, I am sure Sita would have faced far greater opposition than they have.

Fellow SATEP member and Shepperton resident Malcolm Robertson shared these views, adding:

Due to Sita’s company policy of not holding large public meetings, the majority of their public consultation has been conducted through awareness-raising tools such as newsletters, their website, media articles and other marketing materials. However, with this ASA ruling declaring Sita’s publicity material disingenuous at a basic level, it is our view that Sita’s claim to have held satisfactory public consultations should be declared null and void.

SATEP have requested that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government declines planning permission on a number of counts, not least because Sita’s own R1 incinerator efficiency calculation indicate that their so-called eco-friendly proposal would fall short of the revised Waste Framework Directive requirement for recovery facilities.

SATEP also argue that Sita has failed to demonstrate that there are any “very special circumstances” that might justify Surrey County Council’s Planning Committee approval of Sita’s planning application for this hazardous waste processing plant to be built on greenbelt land.

Chris Netherclift, also of SATEP, explains:

This matter is highly emotive, and has even been raised in the House of Commons as the subject of an Adjournment Debate. The ASA have shown that on a number of counts, Sita has misled the people of Spelthorne over the proposed development, from the imagery, to the technology description and the reliability of the reference sites. The whole consultation process, and the associated Planning Authority decision must therefore be called into question, and SATEP is urging the Secretary of State refuse this wholly inappropriate proposal.

According to the ASA ruling:

We understood that it was accepted that gasification technology had been used at various facilities across the world and that the theory of heating waste, rather than burning it, was a viable way of reducing the volume of waste sent to landfill. We also understood that gasification technology has been developed in some facilities for the purpose of generating power. However, we considered that consumers would interpret the claim within the context of the text that followed, which stated that the facilities in Dumfries and Iceland “are all operating successfully”. We therefore considered that most readers would interpret the entire text as a claim that the gasification planned for the Charlton Lane site had also been proven to work successfully, and in the same way and on the same basis as at the referenced facilities. We understood that, although both facilities used primary gasification, the Icelandic facility was set up to process waste with little or no recycling involved and that the Dumfries plant processed pre-treated waste, consisting of commercial, residential and hazardous sources, in order to try and generate electricity from it. We understood that the Charlton Lane site was different in that it was only going to use household waste (which would consist of black bin waste from households who were already strongly encouraged to recycle their rubbish before it was sent to landfill) and it intended to use that waste to generate electricity. We noted this was not the same use of the technology as had been applied in Iceland and Dumfries. We also noted that the facility in Iceland had failed its dioxin test in 2009, and that the site at Dumfries had experienced problems with the design of its boilers which were being replaced and that the plant had yet to generate electricity. We considered that the implied claim that the intended use of gasification was to super-heat non-recycled household waste within the predicted emissions levels had not been substantiated by the examples given and concluded that the ad was misleading.

On these points the ad breached CAP Code (Edition12) rules 3.1, 3.2, 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 11.1 and 11.4 (Environmental claims).

We noted the exact design of the building was an ongoing process and that it evolved significantly through the planning process. However, we noted the October 2010 newsletter was in the latter stage of the design process and considered that any artist impressions of the structure issued during this time should have been accurate because the relative height of the stack would have already been determined. We noted the artist’s impression in the ad showed a large building with a chimney stack, surrounded by a car park. We noted the image showed that the stack would be higher than the main structure of the building and that the illustration demonstrated that this would be larger than the cars and trees in the surroundings of the building. However, we considered that the image of the stack did not make clear that it would be up to 48 metres tall and therefore would be a significant feature of the structure and visible from the surrounding area. We concluded that the image did not accurately reflect the likely height of the stack and concluded that the ad was misleading.

On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.2, 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation).

This is not the first time that a complaint has been upheld against Sita as back in 2009 the company got in trouble for leaflets they distributed in Cornwall.


  1. Adrian Corti

    Yes indeed, we have been well aware of how these companies such as SITA try and twist and confuse people with clever sounding wording etc, so it was a big success to get ASA officially branding SITA literature (that has been used in many other means, including responses to questions, videos, planning talk etc) as MISLEADING! It is another nail in the coffin of SITA/Surrey’s Eco Park incinerator. We are well on the way to stopping this, even though a suspect Surrey Council planning committee passed it, back in early July! The message is to all fighting these, keep plodding on, look for the cracks, and keep hitting them, they think they can walk all over you, we here in Spelthorne are proving them wrong! I agree with Chris, thanks for updating everyone with our news, which I am sure will help in other cases!

  2. Lesley Lilley

    I delighted at finding this site. I hope others who are having incinerators imposed on them across the country will see how easily we can be deceived.

  3. Brian R Catt

    The most important lesson from this is that uncritical acceptance by councillors, officials and the public of the assertions of the same Multinationals who have lobbied for the legislation that makes these risky technologies super profitable by law is totally misguided. They cannot be trusted to tell the truth.

    They MUST be assumed to distort and obsfurcate as much as they think they can get away with to impose the most profitable approach on you. They exist to maximise profit and behave that way. Everything they assert should be checked. They repeated all this misrepresentation on the radio, at public meetings, etc. Its bogus, and was self evidently so to anyone who cared to check on the reported facts. They are not using our rules of honest presentation of the facts, nor our expectations of prudent conduct in the best interests of the public at large as our employees should, that’s a long way down SITA’s priority list, based on this experience.

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