Sunday, 23 August 2015

Waste management incompetence to cost millions more

DOUG COLLIE on plans to haul 40,000 tonnes of Borders garbage out of the region each year

Members of Scottish Borders Council, who have already cost taxpayers millions of pounds over their bungled handling of a 24-year waste management contract, are expected to rubber stamp plans for an extra £4.5 million of capital expenditure later this week in a bid to clear up their own ordure (rough translation - administrative mess).

The preferred solution will have revenue implications of £60.6 million over the next 15 years, and will require consent to borrow even more cash to cover the cost of a scramble to comply with Scottish Government and EU landfill regulations.

On top of the financial burden, the recommended option drawn up by council officials and the obligatory expensive consultants can hardly be described as environmentally friendly for it involves taking all of the 43,000 tonnes of rubbish currently being landfilled near Galashiels out of the region for processing from 2017. That will require hundreds if not thousands of lorry movements producing sizable additional carbon emissions.

Yet none of this would have been necessary if an original contract with waste management firm New Earth Solutions (NES) to build a conventional treatment plant at Easter Langlee had been left in place. The facility would have been up and running by 2013 at the latest.

Instead, presumably on the advice of senior officers, the members unanimously decided in 2012  to gamble with millions of pounds of council taxpayers' money by changing the contract to include an untried and untested form of incineration which has proved to be useless. As a result the council's entire waste strategy had to be abandoned when the contract was scrapped in February. As one observer told us: "They'd have been as well taking our money into Ladbroke's".

The original procurement from NES, signed in 2010, would have diverted 80% of the Borders' black bin waste from landfill at Easter Langlee where there are major issues with methane emissions.

But now landfilling will continue at its unacceptably high rate until 2017 while a so-called waste transfer station is developed on the unused NES site at an estimated cost of £5.5 million. When other costs are factored into the equation the new "solution" is £4.569 million dearer than the existing waste management budget.

The report for Thursday's council meeting declares: "The development of a waste treatment facility in the Borders is not a viable option at the current time and an interim solution is required. The development of a permanent facility will be considered and evaluated during the development of the new waste management plan". However, it was a viable option until SBC messed up big style.

"Given prior experience the time frame available for designing, procuring and constructing a waste treatment facility, to ensure compliance with the landfill bans in January 2021, is considered to be high risk (i.e. too short) compared to that of a waste transfer station", the report adds.

So how much has been achieved and how much money has been poured down the drain during the last thirteen years since the need for a Borders plant was first recognised in 2002? The answers to those questions would appear to be nothing, and countless millions of pounds respectively.

The latest set of proposals - the umpteenth over the last thirteen years - are certainly given a positive gloss and spin despite the previous record of incompetence and inaction.

The report explains: "The closure and subsequent restoration of Easter Langlee landfill site will significantly reduce the volume of methane gas emitted from the landfill site. This will reduce the council's carbon emissions and will maximise the generation of green electricity from the landfill site.

"There will be carbon emissions from the alternative treatment technologies used to manage the council's waste. However these are likely to be significantly less than those associated with disposal of landfill as is currently the case."

But the document does concede the haulage of waste to facilities outwith the Borders will increase SBC's carbon footprint associated with vehicle movements. However the majority of the waste will be bulk hauled which will ensure vehicle movements will be kept to a minimum.

What are the chances of this cunning plan succeeding when all of its predecessors have failed? And will the Green lobby welcome the prospect of fleets of lorries uplifting waste from across the 1800 square miles of Borders territory, taking it to a central dump before another fleet of road vehicles haul it off to Dunbar or Edinburgh?

Watch this space.


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