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Derby could end waste contract amid Sinfin incinerator delays

An artist's impression of the Sinfin incinerator
An artist's impression of the Sinfin incinerator
Derbyshire County Council and Derby City Council appear to be seeking an end to their waste treatment contract with Resource Recovery Solutions (RRS) as the company has failed to deliver on its management of the controversial Sinfin incinerator.

The contract, which was finalised in 2014, requires RRS – a joint venture between waste management firm Shanks Group plc (now Renewi) and construction company Interserve Group plc – to operate and maintain the energy-from-waste (EfW) facility, located in Sinfin, a suburb of Derby. In addition, the company manages nine household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) and two waste transfer stations.

The Sinfin plant has been dogged by controversy since it was first proposed in 2009. That year, a 27-year waste management contract was signed by RRS and the two Derbyshire councils, but planning permission for the incinerator was initially turned down amid fears it would negatively affect recycling levels in the region. This decision was overturned by the High Court and a second planning inquiry was granted in 2012, before both Derby City Council and Derbyshire County Council approved the plans in 2014.

Local campaigners, including Friends of the Earth Derby, had attempted to launch a judicial review against the project; legal action was eventually dropped, but the project still struggled to get off the ground and has never operated fully. It was due to open in 2017, but RRS has been unable to procure certificates to confirm the plant has passed required performance tests.

At full capacity, it was planned for the plant to take 190,000 tonnes of waste, pre-sorted in a mechanical biological treatment (MBT) centre before being burned to power an on-site gasification facility, which would then produce electricity to power 14,000 homes.

In March 2019, Interserve Group, one of the companies behind RRS, went into administration and was sold to lenders in an attempt to cut its £650-million worth of debt, accumulated as a result of the delayed Sinfin incinerator and other troubled projects around the country.

In April, RRS was issued with a formal notice from Derbyshire and Derby councils to take action to move the Sinfin project forward or face termination. Renewi, the other partner in RRS, then announced it had written off its investment in the project with a view to the complete termination of the contract.

Now, it has been revealed that waste companies have been notified of a possible new tendering process for the waste contract, suggesting the local authorities have come to the end of their tether with the continued delays. However, as reported by Derbyshire Live, Derbyshire County Council’s deputy leader Simon Spencer described the incinerator as “central” to the council’s plans, adding: “We remain committed to getting it up and running as soon as possible.”

Derby City Council leader Chris Poulter said they hoped to find “a contractor with the necessary experience, technical competence and financial backing to deliver this waste management contract if the current contract with RRS is brought to an end".

It has been suggested that Derbyshire County and Derby City councils could face huge costs if they choose to terminate the contract early, with a warning issued in June that up to £195 million might be owed in compensation to RRS. However, if RRS is found to be in breach of contract by failing to get the Sinfin plant up and running consistently and on time, this payout could be denied.

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