Campaigners opposed to the Javelin Park energy-from-waste (EfW) project in Gloucestershire are appealing for funds so they can take the council to court, following claims that the way it allocated the contract broke the law. They have also pledged to go after the contractor if they win.
Community R4C has now launched a crowdfunding campaign to take up the legal battle and has already raised £10,000 of its £30,000 target.
R4C is challenging Gloucestershire County Council on the basis of the Public Contract Regulations 2015, which provides a set of rules that public bodies must adhere to when purchasing goods or services of certain values.
R4C said the council breached these rules because the cost of the project significantly increased by more than 10%, from £450m to £600m, and, under the regulations, should have meant that the contract was re-tendered.
Lawyer Ken McEwan of firm Gregg Latchams, acting for the group, said: “There is clearly a case to answer. We have received an initial response from the legal counsel for Gloucestershire County Council, we are preparing our case and we will work with Community R4C to push for an early trial.”
Gloucestershire’s cabinet member responsible for waste, Nigel Moor, said: “The council ran a competitive process following procurement law to select a company to deal with the county’s household waste that cannot be reduced, reused or recycled.
“The council received a legal claim from R4C in relation to that process and has lodged a robust defence to R4C’s claim. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage pending the court’s consideration of the claim.”
The campaign group has said that, if it wins this fight, it will then turn its attention to the contractor, Urbaser Balfour Beatty to GCC.
A spokesperson for R4C said: “If we win the case, we will then pursue the contractor for illegal state aid. The contract breaks state aid rules, and tens of millions of pounds could be forced to be paid back by Urbaser Balfour Beatty to GCC.”
The council needs to make savings of £21m and is increasing council tax by 5% in the next financial year.
R4C has been fighting the proposal to build an EfW plant for four years. It said it had developed a much cheaper waste processing plant that would have recycled more, and it would have bid for the contract had there been an opportunity. However, construction of the facility is now nearing completion.
R4C also has a shopping list of items it wants to negotiate with the council and contractor which it feels will improve sustainability of the plant. These are linked to some of the deficiencies it sees in the contract.
Top of the list is pre-treatment sorting to remove materials that could be recycled and small electrical items. The group has complained that the EfW plant will waste around 80% of the energy produced, in the form of heat, and it wants to see “active promotion” including a subsidy to encourage use of a heat network.
The group also wants to see an end to tiered pricing, which it says discourages recycling. Under the current contract, the cost per tonne for disposal is £189 for the first 108,000 tonnes a year, which the council must pay even if tonnages fall below that. After this tonnage is reached, the price per tonne goes down to £16 per tonne.
R4C said: “This makes the average per tonne charge cheaper the more waste that is sent to the plant. This a perverse incentive to burn more and recycle less.”
Campaigners also query the £189 per tonne fee, saying this is double the price of alternatives. R4C added that the business model for its own plant would have charged just £60 a tonne, and there is local capacity already available at this sort of price.
Further demands include the removal of the discounted waste fee for third parties because R4C says local taxpayers should not be subsidising private or out-of-county waste treatment. To encourage more recycling, the group also wants the reinforcement of recycling credits to district councils and third parties set at no more than £25 less than the gate fee.