DOUG COLLIE unveils another "Wastegate" poser
Not Just Sheep & Rugby recently published information which suggested over £1 million worth of construction work had been commissioned at the proposed Borders waste treatment facility at Easter Langlee before the ill-fated project was abandoned by councillors earlier this year.
The mysterious sum lay tucked away in a corner of the audited accounts of New Earth Solutions (Scottish Borders) Ltd., the £2 company awarded the multi-million pound contract by Scottish Borders Council. Unfortunately, NES claimed it could not answer questions or provide explanations for their accounts entry: " "Construction work in progress at 31/1/2014 £1,136,771".
The problem is that despite New Earth's substantial losses in their Galashiels venture, and the millions of pounds of taxpayers' cash frittered away and written off by the Borders local authority there is nothing to show for their combined lavish expenditure. Yet no-one seems to believe the fiasco warrants a thorough independent inquiry.
Now, our attention has been drawn to a £9 million contract finalised in late 2011 when the council and NES told Galashiels residents: "We are delighted to announce that Muir Construction has been appointed to build the new waste treatment facility at Easter Langlee".
For some strange reason that announcement was confined to the pages of the Easter Langlee Community Newsletter (December 2011 edition) which can still be read online. Our researchers can find no trace of a press statement heralding the important event from either SBC or NES even though their respective logos adorn the front cover of the newsletter.
The only other public reference we could find was in Construction News, a building industry publication which merely gives the value of the contract as £9 million. So presumably the time spent on this aspect of the scheme by council officials, personnel from NES and specialists from Muir Construction also added up to a considerable financial loss for all concerned.
The contract awarded to Muir Construction, one of Scotland's largest privately owned construction companies, was for the Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) plant. It would have diverted up to 80 per cent of Borders rubbish from landfill.
But within a few short months councillors sanctioned a so-called Deed of Variation for their £65 million contract with NES which meant the environmentally friendly MBT was never built. Eventually the entire initiative to assist Scotland's Zero Waste strategy collapsed, leaving council taxpayers in the Borders heavily out of pocket, investors in NES funds unable to access their cash, and the local waste treatment regime in complete disarray.
The contract for the MBT resulted in two overhead electricity cables being diverted to free up the Easter Langlee site for development. According to the newsletter: "This proved a complex task, but has been completed with minimal disruption to local homes and businesses". It is believed that element of the project cost a six-figure sum which should be added to the escalating list of losses.
Partners SBC and NES assured the people of Easter Langlee the construction process would commence in January 2012 and would be completed by January 2013. They added: "Final commissioning and staff training will follow so that the facility is ready to receive waste in April 2013."
A much needed jobs bonanza was promised in the newsletter which declared: "New Earth is committed to employing local people in all our facilities. Job roles will range from site manager, environmental technician and administrator to banksman and mobile plant operators." Sad to say this welcome boost for the local economy never materialised either.
The bullish SBC and NES even invited the populace to "Meet Our Construction Partner" at a special event in a local church hall on January 11th 2012.
Details were supplied of the five phases required to deliver the MBT facility. Earthworks would create a tiered, three-level development platform followed by the installation of driven concrete foundation piles and laying of the foundation and floor slabs. The rest of the building work would follow.
So where did it all go wrong? The MBT had been fully designed and costed after receiving planning permission, and an operating permit from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. The £9 million contract appears to have disappeared into thin air along with the many millions squandered by the local authority.
There remains an unfulfilled need for a full public explanation for the controversial and costly decision by the council and/or NES to shelve the MBT apparently within weeks of Muir Construction's appointment to build it in favour of a risky and highly ambitious project requiring largely untried technology.