Community R4C found that its plans to develop an alternative plant to treat resources in residual waste using an advanced MBHT process were frustrated by an unfair contract between Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) and UBB, a joint venture from Urbaser (a Spanish waste firm) and Balfour Beatty for an incinerator. This contract proved to be very expensive, more than twice the national average cost, and as much as ten times the cost of alternatives. We now know the contract was awarded in secret without competitive tender, in breach of public procurement provisions.
Community R4C challenged the contract through a High Court challenge supported by high grade legal firms, largely on discounted and pro-bono terms. The community business also launched a formal audit challenge. Considerable progress was made, and the Judge and Auditor both concluded that the contract had not been properly awarded, however ultimately Community lost the legal case on a technicality, and the auditor Grant Thornton changed their conclusion to issue a formal public interest report.
The High Court case is outlined below. Newsletters detailing the outcome and an unsuccessful attempt to appeal – despite the pro-bono support of a top QC – can be found here and here.
Community Group Sues Council over £600m incinerator contract
A community group is taking Gloucestershire County Council to court over the award of a £600m incinerator contract. Community R4C, a non-profit mutual society which has had support from celebrities including Jeremy Irons, Jonathon Porritt, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Kevin McCloud, claims the contract was unlawfully awarded, resulting in a massive rise in costs to taxpayers and a breach of procurement law. They filed a lawsuit with the High Court on Friday.
Campaigners have been opposing the waste incinerator at Javelin Park for years, saying the project wasted taxpayers money, was bad for health and the environment and that there were cheaper and better alternatives. Requests to see the contract, the largest the county has ever entered into, were consistently refused until a tribunal forced its disclosure in 2017, by which time a revised contract had been signed. This was only released on 20th December 2018.
“It was a very difficult decision to take this course of action when so much taxpayer money has already been spent on legal battles”, says Patricia Watson, a waste consultant and volunteer director of the group. “The underhand behaviour of the council and contractor has led to a far higher price than anywhere else in the country for the lowest possible environmental benefit.”
Board member Sue Oppenheimer says: “The contract has increased by a staggering £150m making it 30% more expensive. By law, it should have been retendered. Instead Gloucestershire County Council has spent around half a million pounds keeping this information secret. With the support of the community, we had been working on a much cheaper waste processing plant and would have bid for the contract. Our plant would have increased recycling, reduced pollution and would have been a better deal for the environment and the taxpayer.”
Tom Jarman, another board member says: “There is a strict 30 days limit to bringing this sort of claim and it seems to us that the council timed the disclosure of the relevant information strategically, just before Christmas, so to make it almost impossible for anyone to bring legal action in time. Keeping a 30% increase in cost secret from the public and its own audit committee is not the way we expect a public authority to conduct itself.”
Notes for Editors
There has been widespread and consistent objection to the building of an incinerator on the Javelin Park site in Gloucestershire, alongside an area of outstanding natural beauty. Well over 4000 people wrote to object and the Council’s own planning committee unanimously rejected the plans, yet still the plans for the incinerator have been pushed ahead, and the plant is now in an advanced state of build.
Documents available on the Community R4C website show the planned incinerator is very inefficient and expensive. The lack of heat use (combined heat and power) means that almost 80% of the energy available is wasted, and the plant is a harmful emitter of greenhouse gasses, and harmful dioxins. Two thirds of the electricity comes from inefficiently burning plastic, a fossil fuel, and this is even more harmful to the environment than landfill. It burns all material received, yet well over 50% of this material is recyclable.
The gate fee £190 per tonne of waste (for the first 108,000 tonnes, Council guaranteed minimum) almost twice the cost of alternatives.
The Council has been consistently secretive, refusing to release contract details despite numerous FOI requests.
In 2015 a local group decided not just to campaign against something, but to work towards a better solution which would serve the community and protect the environment. This harnesses the commitment of the local community to preserve resources while minimising cost so that other local services could be protected.
Community R4C Ltd
Community R4C is a Community Benefit Society based in Stroud, Gloucestershire registered with the Financial Conduct Authority.
In 2016 Community R4C raised almost £100,000 in a groundbreaking Community Share Scheme to facilitate its aims and the building of an alternative waste resource recovery plant – the R4C plant – in co-operation with investors and partners.
Community R4C has widespread support, both within and outside Gloucestershire including from well known campaigners for sustainability – among them Jeremy Irons, Jonathon Porritt, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Kevin McCloud
This was filed on Friday 18th January, and served on the council today.
A claim for compensation is the only remedy available to us. We want to invest the proceeds back into the local community, just as we would have done with the profits from our own plant.
Current Aims of Community R4C
- Contract to revert to previous terms, saving the Council £150M over the life of the contract
- Remove the three tier pricing mechanism that gives contractual incentives to recycle less and waste more. Ensure that gate fees offered are no less than that paid by the Council, taxpayers should not be subsiding the private sector!
- Ensure the payments made to waste collection authorities (the district councils) for waste collected and recycled (recycling credits) are set at a minimum level which is no less than £25 pt below the gate fee above, encouraging greater recycling. Also implement schemes to subsidise waste avoidance schemes on the same principle.
- Provide subsidy to community groups doing likewise on a similar basis
- Monitoring of emissions to include small particulates to ensure emissions of these most harmful substances stay below legal maximums
- Implement a pre-sort of waste received at the incinerator (manual or auto) to remove recyclable material
- Pre-sort to be enhanced annually to reduce waste being incinerated
- Heat produced by the incinerator to be available on highly attractive terms and encourage suitable industry
- Commitment to work closely with CR4C and other community groups to further the principles of the circular economy and ensure that Gloucestershire is a leading light in this field
- Decommission / re-purpose the Incinerator as soon as it is economic to do so, with specific objectives to reduce the burden on the public purse, reduce visual impact
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