EXCLUSIVE - by DOUGLAS SHEPHERD
The procurement expert employed by Scottish Borders Council to negotiate a £65 million contract for the treatment and disposal of the region's domestic refuse has told Not Just Sheep & Rugby that all of the options now being considered for a revised council waste management strategy will be considerably more expensive than the deal he brokered.
Barry Phelps and his company D & P Management were paid £302,000 by SBC for work carried out between 2008 and 2011 when the original contract for the construction of a conventional waste treatment plant at Easter Langlee, Galashiels, was agreed with New Earth Solutions. That project would have reduced the amount of waste going to landfill by 80 per cent.
But after Mr Phelps left the local authority's employment councillors altered their arrangement with NES to include a high-risk Energy from Waste treatment facility which was to employ untried technology. The so-called Deed of Variation signed by both parties to incorporate Advanced Thermal Treatment (ATT) led to the complete collapse of the proposals which are now years behind schedule.
SBC terminated the revised contract with NES in February, wrote off at least £2 million it had squandered on the venture, and announced it was returning to square one in a bid to produce yet another revised waste management plan.
Last month councillors were presented with a report which outlined a range of possible options for dealing with the region's annual 65,000 tonnes of waste. The choices include developing a purpose-built plant to serve the region or transporting rubbish to treatment plants in neighbouring council areas.
We asked Mr Phelps to comment on the report's contents which are crucial if SBC is to meet Scottish and European landfill reduction targets.
He told us: "In summary what they are intending to do is nothing more than what was undertaken in 2008, albeit there is new legislation. The disappointing thing is the NES solution was flexible enough to meet the emerging legislation."
Mr Phelps warned that if the council decided to construct and operate their own waste facility, based on previous detailed modelling, this would have cost SBC around £56 million more than the NES bid.
He went on: "Should the council opt to transport waste out of the Borders this brings other challenges. Cost of transport could be in the region of £1 million per year based on previous estimates of using an Edinburgh or Dunbar site while the gate fees (total cost of disposal) for these other facilities were much higher than those quoted by NES."
This option would also have a huge negative impact on SBC's carbon footprint, explained Mr Phelps. And some local authorities - supported by planning restrictions - did not allow waste to be imported from outwith the council perimeters.
"One suggestion in the report is to consider using the Viridor facility (I assume this is Dunbar). The capacity will predominately take all of Edinburgh's waste leaving a small amount for other parties including the private sector.
"Viridor will be acutely aware they are in a dominant commercial position and are likely to charge accordingly. Where else will SBC be able to go?."
He pointed out that SBC had tried before - unsuccessfully - to collaborate on waste treatment issues with local authorities in the Lothians and Edinburgh. This was why the Borders had been trying to "go it alone".
"Currently SBC is not complying with EU regulations on landfill diversion and are exposed to fines of £150 per tonne above the permitted allowance", warned Mr Phelps. "Although the Scottish Government has suspended the imposition of the fines at present they could well lift that suspension at any time."
In Mr Phelps' view SBC had only three practical options to consider, namely: 1 construct and operate their own facility; 2 re-tender for a new provider with the risk of failing to attract any interest; 3 transport waste out of the Borders.
Said Mr Phelps: "I am confident that any of the above options will cost SBC significantly more than the NES contract, even without the ATT option."