Community group wants £150m returned to taxpayer

Community R4C – a not-for-profit community owned group – is taking Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) to court to challenge the legality of a £650 million contract awarded to consortium Urbaser Balfour Beatty to build the waste incinerator in Gloucestershire. The first hearing will be held at Bristol High Court this Friday, the 7th June.

The group claims the council illegally handled the re-negotiation of the contract in 2016 by breaking procurement rules and giving what amounted to illegal state aid to UBB. If the group is successful, it will be able to pursue the case for between £75 million and £150 million being returned to Gloucestershire County Council by UBB and this would lead to substantial changes in the way the plant operates, including more rigorous recycling and protection of the environment.

The original contract was awarded by GCC to UBB in 2013 but time delays caused by the extended planning process led to its expiration. GCC re-negotiated the contract with UBB in 2016 resulting in a £150 million increase in the cost of the original contract (30% in less than 3 years). This was done in secret with no opportunity for other companies to tender for the contract. Community R4C claims that the awarding of the contract without competitive tendering breaches procurement law, and is also illegal according to State Aid rules. The community group says this secrecy also highlights how the plant fails to fulfil legal obligations to pursue the ‘waste hierarchy’ as set out in the Waste Regulations Act 2011.

CR4C’s board member, Tom Jarman, said: “We have every right to demand that the illegal subsidy committed to UBB is returned to the county’s taxpayers and that we can move towards waste treatment which is sustainable and economic. CR4C has set out the framework for this and again invites the Council to enter into discussion with us to work together to these ends.”

Recycling plan
The incinerator will not sort recyclable material from non-recyclable resulting in the burning of plastics, electronic goods containing rare metals, paper, food and other recyclable material which could otherwise have been recycled or composted. This is counter to the Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy, and the legal requirement placed upon local councils to maximise recycling and find sustainable ways to re-use materials.

Community R4C has set out plans for alternative waste treatment which could easily deal with waste produced within the county, and include a pre-treatment plant which would sort residual (black bag) waste to recover valuable and recyclable materials. This plant would be installed at the Javelin Park site as a stepping stone to stopping wasteful and harmful incineration in the county. These plans also start to create a circular economy – designing what we make and use so they can be re-used, turned into something else, and only dealt as waste when there’s absolutely no other alternative. It’s estimated that 6-13 jobs can be created for every 1,000 tons of plastic recycled and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation states that the circular economy could lead to a 48% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030.

CR4C’s spokesperson, Sue Oppenheimer, said: “They should have gone out to tender and it seems that by not doing so, it was a very deliberate attempt to exclude our bid for a community-supported recycling plant. It is tragic that our county council missed this opportunity to save local taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds and to preserve our environment.”

Mis-leading claims
CR4C says claims made by GCC to justify the UBB contract are misleading and seek to hide the huge environmental and economic cost of the incinerator:

  • GCC claims this contract will save the county £100 million in waste treatment during the life of the incinerator. In fact, the contract is significantly more expensive even than the county’s current landfill and is more than £10 million a year more expensive than currently available alternatives. The Council has committed £38 million from its reserves just to make the contract ‘affordable’ in current budgetary terms since waste management costs will increase under the contract. Papers now released by the council show this £100 million saving is only when compared to the cancellation cost of the contract, and assumes a large cost in future landfill costs rather than comparing it to much cheaper alternatives currently available.
  • GCC claims the incinerator will support recycling. In fact, the contract has a two tier pricing structure which will discourage recycling by making it cheaper for the county to send recyclates to the incinerator rather than recycle. This will result in reductions to the recycling credits paid by GCC which enable the district councils to recycle, therefore undermining work to reduce waste and improve recycling.

– ENDS –

For further information and interviews, contact:
Tom Jarman, tel:——-; email: ——
Sue Oppenheimer, tel: ——; email: —–

CR4C’s lawsuit was filed on 18th January 2019 and will take place at 11.30am-1pm on Friday 7th June.
Details and papers can be found here (item 1)

Community R4C is now a Community Benefit Society based in Stroud, Gloucestershire, and 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 including Jeremy Irons and Jonathon Porritt.

There has been widespread and consistent objection to the building of an incinerator on the Javelin Park site in Gloucestershire. Well over 4,000 people wrote to object and the Council’s own planning committee unanimously rejected the plans, yet the plans for the incinerator were finally given approval in 2015 by the then Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, 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.