Campaigners have won an appeal against a decision to withhold information on how a Viridor energy-from-waste (EfW) facility received a high efficiency certification to make it eligible for public subsidies.
In 2013, Friends Of The Earth (FoE) Cymru filed a Freedom of Information request to Cardiff City Council for the assessment that allowed an EfW plant under construction at Trident Park to be considered a ‘recovery’ installation, which is referred to as ‘R1’.
Such accreditation brings a subsidy of around £4.3m a year from the Welsh Government, or more than £100m during the plant’s 25-year lifetime.
The council decided not to release the information on the grounds of commercial sensitivity. FoE Cymru then filed an appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which backed the council’s position.
However, a judge at a tribunal has now overturned the decision, saying the information would not cause “adverse impact on any legitimate economic interest” if it was released.
The judge said the material consisted of a “short report” prepared for Viridor by consulting engineers, which reportedly sets out figures on the energy input from waste and other sources and how the energy produced is apportioned. It also includes calculations which justify the R1 categorisation.
The judge said: “The information will neither give advantage to a competitor in future tendering exercises nor assist it in developing a rival product.
“This information has been widely used in the decision-making of various public bodies about this substantial project. The projected performance of the facility is key to its acceptability and viability. That is a matter of considerable legitimate public concern.”
Gareth Clubb, director of FoE Cymru, said: “This is a hugely significant decision by the judge. He has rightly determined that spending more than £100m of public money should be subject to full public scrutiny.”
A spokesman for Cardiff City Council said that all the parties involved – the local authority, the Information Commissioner’s Office and Viridor – were considering the ruling and will respond in due course.
Viridor has declined to comment.
The plant, which will be able to process up to 350,000 tonnes a year, is now in advanced stages of commissioning and is expected to be taken over by the waste management company this month. MRW understands that, once completed, the scheme will be the only facility in Wales certified as R1.
In England, only three operational facilities have been awarded the R1 status. Defra said that such certification it is not mandatory but is important for planning purposes and in the application of the ‘proximity principle’, which advocates that waste should be managed close to the point at which it is generated.
Operators can apply for the status to the relevant regulator.