Northern Ireland councils have been forced to rethink long term waste management plans after a procurement process for a multi-million pound contract was scrapped following a legal challenge.
Eight councils in the Southern Waste Management Partnership (SWAMP2008) could have to go back to the drawing board after the three year process, which received funding from the Department of Environment (DoE), was terminated.
The 25-year contract was intended to provide residual waste management services and infrastructure for Armagh, Banbridge, Cookstown, Craigavon, Dungannon and South Tyrone, Fermanagh, Newry and Mourne and Omagh councils, in the south and west of Northern Ireland.
The initiative received £3.1 million from the DoE. But a challenge to the legality of a bid which introduced new partners into its consortium has meant the partnership decided it could not justify the costs of a risky legal contest, and has terminated the procurement.
SWAMP chairman Connaire McGreevy said that the councils were in talks about how best to replace longer term strategies. They could form smaller partnerships, as well as use the option of shifting around landfill between the different councils, he said.
However he added that the economy and the waste management industry had changed significantly since the procurement process started.
“There’s more education and new technology and more capacity,” he said. “The small local recycling companies are getting better, and opening up to export markets. So we will have to address whether or not we are happy to do a 25 year contract? Maybe we don’t need three waste groups to deal with it. Three years ago it was the only option.”
Environment minister for Northern Ireland Alex Attwood vowed to scrutinise Northern Ireland’s two other strategic waste scheme procurements, arc21 and the North West Regional Waste Management (NWRWMG) Group which include the region’s other 18 councils.
The minister continued: “In the coming weeks, my focus will be to subject the remaining two procurement exercises being undertaken by councils to robust and ongoing scrutiny to ensure that waste procurement is modelled to serve needs of the councils in the North, to do so in a way that is fully compliant with European legislation, is affordable, is deliverable and is the necessary and best option for our waste requirements.”
The NWRWMG has seven councils in the north and west. A consortium including Brickkiln, United Utilities and Sisk is the final bidder. A spokesperson said it had closely scrutinised each bid at every stage of the process to ensure the most environmentally friendly and economically advantageous solution: “We look forward to announcing more details, including locations, later this year, with the new waste facilities set to be operational before the end of 2015.”
The arc21 partnership includes eleven councils in the east of Northern Ireland. A spokesperson said: “Dialogue within this procurement process continues and arc21 are progressing assessment of the bidder’s proposals.”