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County told to publish secret incinerator deal data

Gloucestershire County Council has been ordered to disclose further commercial details of the controversial Javelin Park incinerator deal, despite saying this would damage both it and contractor Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB).

The county has 35 days to publish or face potential contempt of court proceedings.

A ruling by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said the public interest in disclosing details of the £500m project available with a few exceptions outweighed any damage to the council and UBB’s commercial interests.

Gloucestershire was last year ordered by the First Tier Tribunal to disclose most information it had sought to keep private.

The new case was brought by a local resident following a report by consultant EY on Javelin Park’s value for money and affordability, which the resident argued simply updated information the tribunal had already told Gloucestershire to disclose.

But Gloucestershire said it contained data that was not contractually required from UBB but had been given with an expectation of confidence.

It said UBB feared disclosure would undermine it in future competitive tenders and negotiations with third parties, while Gloucestershire wanted to keep private pricing for the sale of spare waste capacity to third parties and the sale of electricity.

The commissioner admitted that disclosure would “harm the legitimate economic interest of the council and UBB”.

But the ruling went on: “It is impossible for the public to be fully aware of the overall value for money of the project in the long term if it is unable to analyse the full figures regarding costs and price estimates which the council was working from at the time of the revised project plan.”

A Gloucestershire spokesperson said: “We recognise the public interest in this matter and have complied with all previous ICO requests, however the legislation and guidance is unclear.

“We have to make sure we balance the needs of our contractors for commercial sensitivity with the desire to provide as much information as possible into the public domain.”

The council added that it still thought there were details in the contract and the EY report which could undermine its ability to secure best value for taxpayers, and “we will be going through the latest ICO ruling and will respond to it in due course”.

Gloucestershire said the incinerator was due to open next year and would save taxpayers more than £100m and provide power for 25,000 homes.

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