Campaigners bid to halt £500m incinerator in Gloucestershire
Local Gloucestershire environmental group Community R4C has filed a complaint with the Competition and Markets Authority regarding Gloucestershire County Council’s (GCC) £500-million contract with Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB) for the development of its Javelin Park incinerator near Stroud.
The crux of the complaint is that the project does not provide value for money and that the contract breaks competition law, a complaint that, if upheld, could lead to serious consequences for GCC, including the voiding of the contract and significant financial penalties.
Community G4C claim that the above-market price that GCC paid UBB for the contract forecloses all competition and prevents technological innovation due to the GCC effectively subsidising UBB to charge below-market price for the remaining plant capacity.
Furthermore, it is claimed that contract termination costs in excess of £100m have also prevented smaller competitors from getting a look-in during the tendering process, while the 25-year contract prevents better and cheaper alternatives from being developed.
Community R4C delivered a report revealing the findings of an independent analysis of the Javelin Park incinerator contract last week (31 March) at the Guildhall, Gloucester, where Hollywood star Jeremy Irons, who made the 2015 documentary Trashed – No Place For Waste, spoke.
This event followed on from last week’s protests outside Shire Hall in Gloucester where 100 protestors voiced their discontent before the council met to discuss the projet.
Potential “death-blow” to incinerator project
Commenting on the action taken, Community R4C board member Sue Oppenheimer said: “This could be the death-blow to the unwanted incinerator. GCC should stop UBB from carrying out further work on site immediately, in order to limit liabilities.
“In addition, our analysis of the contract shows that, instead of providing value for money, as claimed by the council’s cabinet, this contract will be a huge financial burden for years to come. The council would save millions by terminating the contract right now.”
‘No validity to the claims’
The submission of the complaint drew the ire of GCC deputy leader Ray Theodoulou, who, speaking to Gloucestershire Live, called the complaint a “desperate stunt by opponents of this project”.
He added: “There is no validity to the claims that they’re making, nor any suggestion that the Competition and Markets Authority will pay the least attention to them.
“The Javelin Park contract was awarded, following a government-approved process, after an open and transparent competition. Neither R4C, nor the people who stand behind it, chose to submit a bid as part of that process. They are simply throwing away their investors’ money on pointless legal fees.
“One [of] R4C’s complaints is that the Javelin Park project is too cheap, and that this is ‘predatory pricing’. It is surprising to be attacked, at the same time and by the same people, for a project being both too expensive, and also too cheap.”
Latest chapter in a long-running saga
The complaint by Community R4C represents but the latest chapter in the long-running tussle between GCC and local community groups over the proposed Javelin Park facility since the contract was signed in 2012.
GCC estimates that the planned facility at Javelin Park will divert more than 90 per cent of the county’s household residual waste from landfill, providing enough electricity for 26,000 homes and saving the council over £150 million in landfill and energy costs over the length of the contract.
However, the project has been beset with problems, with construction, originally slated for 2013, being held up by opposition from the council’s planning committee, which led to an appeals process that only ended in July 2015 following an intervention by then-Secretary of State for Local Government Eric Pickles to approve the plans. A legal challenge to Pickles’s ruling was made by Stroud District Council but rejected by the High Court.
An attempt to hasten the completion of the project saw GCC approve an additional one-off payment of £17 million of public money to UBB, which was met with fierce protests.
Among protestors was Community R4C, who in August 2015 launched an alternative waste treatment project, based on advanced mechanical biological heat treatment (MBHT) technology, to undermine the UBB project.
Community R4C launched a community share offer for the facility last year and has successfully raised over £80,000, with new members from within and outside Gloucestershire still sought.