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GCC to appeal incinerator FOI ruling

GCC to appeal incinerator FOI ruling
The proposed Javelin Park incinerator
Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) has been given a month to disclose all information about its contract with Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB) to build a controversial incinerator, following a ruling by the government’s Information Commissioner.

If the council does not comply with the order it faces the possibility of being found in contempt of court.

GCC has said, however, that it will appeal to a tribunal, claiming that releasing the information would have “serious consequences for all councils in Britain”.

The Javelin Park incinerator, due to be constructed in Stroud, forms part of GCC’s £500-million waste contract with UBB. Since being proposed in 2012, the incinerator’s development has been opposed by a number resident groups including GlosVAIN (Gloucester Vale Against Incineration).

Resident Cos Ttofa first made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the council for the full incinerator contract and business case to be made public in January. The council refused the request, and the case was taken to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in May.

Following a five-month review of the case, the commissioner issued his decision on 8 October, ordering GCC to release withheld information including financial details and key dates.

Release would have ‘serious consequences for British councils’

Councillor Ray Theodoulou, Deputy Leader of Gloucestershire County Council, said: “The Information Commissioner's decision is clear. He recognises that the information in question is confidential and commercial, which is welcome.

“The commissioner was only concerned that the council did not provide sufficient information on the impacts of releasing the information. It is our intention to provide that additional information to the Information Tribunal, and to ask them to look again at this independently.

"If companies that bid for councils services know that their pricing, or their methods of operating, are going to be revealed to their competitors, taxpayers are going to have a very significant cost to bear. This is an important point, with serious consequences for all councils in Britain, which needs further independent examination.

“We've published as much information as we legally can about the contract – with over 95 per cent already on our website."

Appeal suggests ‘there’s something someone wants hidden’

GCC is led by a Conservative majority. Responding to the news that it will appeal the Information Commissioner’s ruling, Leader of the county’s Liberal Democrats and GCC Councillor, Jeremy Hilton said: “From start to finish the incinerator project has been one big shambolic mess. This is a major failure in public policy.

“The full information on the incinerator contract should be made public and it should be made public now. The council should not waste any more time or money on legal wrangling in attempt to block the release of this important information.

“The cabinet member should do as he has been instructed by the Information Commissioner. The public and others have the right to see the full details of the deal between the county council and UBB.

“To mount an appeal like this implies one thing and one thing only: that there is something someone wants hidden.

“We are still none the wiser whether the building of this incinerator will ever be built. It is a ludicrous and never-ending saga that is seeing taxpayers’ money literally go up in smoke. Enough is enough.”

Javelin Park background

The Javelin Park incinerator is expected, when complete, to divert more than 90 per cent of the county’s household residual waste from landfill, and UBB estimates that it will generate enough electricity to power approximately 26,000 homes, while saving the council £150 million in landfill and energy costs over its 25-year contract.

Plans for the facility were first approved by GCC in 2013, but following a change in government, planning permission was refused by the council’s planning committee on the grounds that by the end of the contract the technology would be ‘antiquated’ and ’inflexible’.

This decision was appealed by UBB and in January this year then-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles approved the plans.

GCC to appeal incinerator FOI rulingLocal groups fought Pickles’s decision, however, and Stroud District Council lodged a legal challenge to the High Court, delaying construction further. A High Court decision was deferred several times before it finally rejected the challenge in July.

At the same time, however, Tom Jarman, a local engineer and Director of Biocentre, a company specialising in mechanical, biological and heat (MBHT) treatment of waste, presented plans for a rival community biomass plant, R4C (Resource Recovery, Refining and Recycling Centre).

These plans were officially launched in August. Community R4C (CR4C), the group developing the facility, says that it is ‘more safe, cost-effective and sustainable’ than the Javelin Park incinerator, and that over the course of one year, it would save £10 million of local taxpayers’ money, reduce carbon emissions by 114,000 tonnes and provide nearly 90,000 more tonnes of both renewable biomass and ‘high-grade’ recyclates.

The one-line plant, CR4C estimates, would cost approximately £15 million, and would be able to take all of the county’s municipal waste. With a funding drive already under way, the group hopes to have the facility operational by mid-2017.

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