Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Unbelievable revelations in £2.4 million waste treatment tragedy

DOUG COLLIE reports on the latest FOI disclosures

The 'proving plant' for untried waste management technology which was to be used in a "cutting edge" treatment plant to serve the Scottish Borders had not even been installed at a research and development centre in Dorset in October 2014, more than two years after councillors decided the system was right for Galashiels.

This, and a number of other disturbing disclosures contained in documentation released under Freedom of Information, seems likely to generate more questions for Scottish Borders Council and waste "specialists" New Earth Solutions [NES] whose ill-fated contract had to be abandoned last year because of insurmountable funding and technological issues at a cost of at least £2.4 million..

The three confidential - and still heavily censored - pieces of paperwork are all linked to the weeks preceding the visit in 2014 by a large SBC delegation to the NES plants near Bristol, although the council maintains no reports were written after the party of elected members and officers returned home.

A detailed background paper running to 34 pages and dated October 3rd 2014 - the day of the visit - shows a nine-month moratorium on the 24-year contract was agreed in February 2014 and which was scheduled to run until the end of October 2014. This important step was never made public, and all debate and decisions relating to the moratorium were conducted in private.

The moratorium was designed "primarily to provide additional time to develop...(the rest of the sentence has been redacted), provide time to identify funding for the project, and to allow an extra period to secure the necessary certificate for the Easter Langlee plant from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency [SEPA].

However, when the original contract was signed, funders had been identified for the £21 million waste plant. They are named in council documents as New Earth Recycling & Renewables (Infrastructure) PLC [NERR], managed by Premier Group (Isle of Man).

And as Not Just Sheep & Rugby exclusively revealed this week NERR is 50% owned by Premier Group Distribution Inc., a business with its registered offices at a property in British Virgin Islands occupied by law firm Mossack Fonseca of "Panama Papers" fame.

By the time the briefing notes were written the Easter Langlee project was already years behind schedule and SBC was in danger of being unable to meet Government imposed landfill diversion targets. But NES appeared to be offering a temporary alternative solution to rubbish disposal in the Borders.

One of the documents states: "Prior to commencement of treatment operations at Easter Langlee there is an option for the interim treatment of some of SBC's 'black bag' residual waste by third parties sub-contracted to NES. New Earth can arrange the bulk haulage from SBC's transfer stations. No additional cost to SBC, recycling and landfill diversion benefits for SBC".

NES goes on to tell the council: "Scottish Borders is an important project for New Earth and we are committed to delivering it. We have a route map to deliver the Easter Langlee facility by....(rest of sentence redacted). The paying public apparently have no right to know the date NES had in mind for completion of the plant.

A great deal of confusion seems to exist when the various waste management strategies for the Borders are placed side by side.

The 2014 version, according to the "commercially sensitive" papers, offers a solution which "means that the council does not have to transport all of its waste out of the region to be treated to meet legislative requirements, as this does not represent value for money in the long term".

But this environmentally unfriendly way of overcoming decades of dither and needless expenditure had become 'flavour of the month' by the summer of 2015 when the latest efforts to come up with a practical strategy was launched. If approved, hundreds of lorry movements per month will be required to take Borders rubbish elsewhere for treatment.

A previously unseen briefing note from NES for councillors dated September 2nd 2014 gives the impression the troubled contract remained intact when in fact it was falling apart at the seams and should have been torn up months earlier.

The Bristol delegation is told: "On October 31st NES will provide a new funding strategy and an energy from waste technology development strategy". So neither were in place three and a half years after elected members penned the original deal with NES, but they were content to allow the never ending saga to drag on..

And the note continues: "The council then has until January 31st 2015 to consider the proposals. The parties then have until March 31st 2015 to agree a new Deed of Variation to the existing contract".

A section headed THE TECHNOLOGY, which has been liberally redacted, says the so-called 'proving plant' for the Easter Langlee plant would be installed on land adjacent to New Earth's waste treatment facility at Canford, Dorset.

"Operational experience with the fully integrated 'proving plant' is key to delivering New Earth's first commercial scale...(redaction) at Easter Langlee". In other words the form of technology chosen by Borders council members when they first amended the contract in October 2012 had still not been road tested 24 months later.

A further passage in the document entitled THE TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT could have proved informative had the censor not daubed much of it with thick black ink. It states: "The outline timetable for the development of the Canford 'proving plant' and subsequently Easter Langlee is as follows".

A series of dates - March 2015, October 2015, January 2016, February 2016 and August 2017 is visible. But the 'events' linked to each date have been obliterated thereby rendering the material worthless from a council taxpayer's point of view.

It seems the cover-up is set to continue.

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