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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 last 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 adds: "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 3-day 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."
Community R4C says there has been widespread and consistent objection to the building of an incinerator on the Javelin Park site, alongside an area of outstanding natural beauty. Well over 4,000 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.
Community R4C claims that the Council has been consistently secretive, refusing to release contract details despite numerous Freedom of Information Act requests.
In 2015, it 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.
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.
Image courtesy of Stroud News
24th January 2019