A COMMUNITY environmental group’s legal challenge to Gloucestershire County Council’s £650 million waste incinerator contract has been heard at Bristol High Court, with the closing arguments and possible judgement set for Thursday, March 19.
The long-running dispute over the controversial Javelin Park incinerator at Haresfield, near Junction 12 on the M5, dates back to 2007, with community opposition on cost, health and environmental grounds.
Community R4C alleges that GCC broke procurement law in 2016 by secretly awarding consortium Urbaser Balfour Beatty a new contract which, at £650million, was 30 per cent more expensive than the original £500million 2013 contract – and doing so without a re-tender.
Community R4C also alleges that much of the £150million difference in contract price constitutes illegal state aid. They want this returned to Gloucestershire by Urbaser Balfour Beatty and part of the funds used to ensure efficient recycling for the county’s ‘black bag’ waste before incineration. They claim that as much as 90 per cent of the waste could be recycled rather than burned.
Cllr Nigel Moor, Gloucestershire County Council cabinet member responsible for waste, said: “The council ran a competitive process following procurement law to select a company to deal with the county’s household waste that can’t be reduced, reused or recycled. The council received a legal claim from R4C in relation to that process and has lodged a robust defence. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage pending the court’s consideration of this matter.”
After three days in court the hearing has been extended for written and oral submissions by each side to be heard on March 19 – and then it is up to the judge.
Sue Oppenheimer of Community R4C said: “The GCC legal team have sought to show that our challenge should be thrown out on two technical preliminary issues: it was too late according to bidding rules and a Community R4C (CR4C) led consortium could not have got through a pre-qualification criterion.
“The evidence we submitted and the cross-examination of the council’s key witness showed, we feel, that the councillors, public, industry and CR4C could not have known the new contract details until the GCC released its secret figures in December 2018.
“The council’s evidence accepted that the first contract signed in 2013 was worth £469m – so less than the £500m you will have seen in the press – and that the new contract signed in 2016 was £613m. This is a 30 per cent increase. It was also accepted that this new contract was awarded without a new tender process, and absent of competitive pressure.
“It is a principle of procurement law that a material change in a contract would require a retender, and that normally an increase in cost of more than 10 per cent is regarded as material.”