High court rules that Gloucestershire County Council concealed £600 million incinerator contract for three years

By Amplify Stroud

Community R4C wins key High Court finding against Gloucestershire County Council in Javelin Park incinerator case. 

In a potentially landmark judgement, a Bristol High Court judge has ruled that the Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) concealed, for three years, the details of a £600 million contract with Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB) for the controversial Javelin Park incinerator. 

At the heart of the case is the legality of GCC agreeing to pay, without any re-tender, £150 million more to UBB than had previously been agreed following a competitive tender. 

The court heard that a contract originally agreed with UBB in 2012 following a competitive tender exercise was renegotiated and replaced by a second contract signed in early 2016. 

Details of both contracts were kept secret, but it was finally revealed that the second was some 30 per cent (c. £150m) more expensive than the first, for the provision of the same services. 

It is a general requirement of procurement law that any such significant increase requires a new, competitive tender, as that is the only way of ensuring value for money. 

Representing Community R4C, their barrister Duncan Sinclair said: “The evidence is consistent and compelling that all but a small cabal within Gloucestershire County Council were in the dark. The Council resisted disclosure of even the first contract for four years, before the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and then on appeal. 

It then resisted disclosure of any details of the disputed second, 2016, contract for another two years, through the ICO and by appealing until it finally released documents on 20 December 2018. 

GCC’s deliberate concealment of the facts for so long meant it was impossible to challenge the 2016 contract at the time, or indeed to seek to obtain a remedy annulling the contract. 

C4RC was thus forced to seek damages in order to expose the illegality of the contract. 

Campaigner Tim Davis, who has been an outspoken opponent of the project over the course of its eight-year development, has previously said that he felt it was ‘sinister’ that the true cost of the incinerator had been kept from the public. 

“They keep saying it will power 25,000 homes, but they mean it will provide the energy equivalent to that annually – in reality that energy will be distributed across the grid.

“The contract for the incinerator was signed in secret in late 2018: we found out that the cost had increased by well over £100m. 

“The total cost has come to £633m, and it has been massively more expensive than the alternatives.” 

Asked about alternatives to incineration, Mr Davis said that responsibly-managed landfill would have been a less hazardous avenue for the county council to pursue. 

“You can bury it; one aspect of landfill which isn’t considered so much is that the methane resulting from the decomposition of waste can be burned to provide energy. 

“Although it enters the atmosphere in the short term, it has a massively shorter residence time than carbon dioxide, which is readily emitted as a by-product of incineration.”

“There are other differences with the carbon cost of methane – its residence time in the atmosphere isn’t as long. With carbon you have to account for the absolute volume, as carbon fixation and sequestration is a lengthier process.”

“If you improve the recycling process they use when it comes to collection and make it easier for people to sort their waste, the amount of rubbish that goes to landfill or to be incinerated will decrease.” 

Mr Davis said that a waste and recycling system akin to the one currently in place in Stroud would be more effective.

“If you’re promoting the incinerator as a means of generating electricity through waste disposal, it’s not a good incentive for people to recycle. 

“Instead it will encourage the council not to push for more efficient methods of waste disposal and collection.”

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