A start date for construction of the £23 million waste treatment facility to deal with household rubbish in the Scottish Borders had still not been fixed some two and a half years after local councillors awarded a potentially lucrative contract to debt-ridden 'specialists' New Earth Solutions.
The uncertainty which prevailed in late 2013 as to when building work would get underway at Easter Langlee, Galashiels is outlined in some detail in reports and emails made public for the first time via Freedom of Information requests.
And while apparently insurmountable issues continued to bedevil technology trials for the so-called NEAT Advanced Thermal Treatment system planned for the Borders site, New Earth bosses were becoming more and more frustrated over the "attitude" of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency [SEPA] towards the granting of an operating certificate for the incinerator.
Not Just Sheep & Rugby has reported in the past on attempts by the contractors to pressurise SEPA into sanctioning the paperwork for Easter Langlee. Now correspondence between NES and Scottish Borders Council confirms SBC was deeply unhappy with the attempts to steamroller the independent Scottish watchdog.
A report from September 2013 which was written by NES sets out their position. It states: "As SBC is aware, we disagree with SEPA in a number of areas relating to their need for certain data in order to process the certificate. Now we are through the “difficult” part of the project (i.e. the planning application), as discussed at the previous meeting, we may need SBC’s assistance with lobbying through Scottish Government to bring pressure to bear on SEPA. .
"We met with Zero Waste Scotland (at an event) and expressed frustration with SEPA’s approach and we will be following up on this initial contact."
The council was less than pleased with NES's attempt to hector SEPA. A response made public with the rest of the 2013 file reads: "In relation to your soundings to ZWS regarding SEPA's performance, can you please refrain from further discussions until the situation has been discussed with the Council.
"We do not believe that representations to another government body (Quango) on the performance of a regulatory body reflects well on us (NES are effectively representing the Council to deliver the project) and could cause the Council future (wider) issue with SEPA, if they take exception to the complaint route that has been taken.
"As discussed at the last contracts meeting, if NES feel that SEPA's performance needs to be challenged then a meeting is to be convened with the Council to discuss the issue, the risks, the approach and who is best place to take it forward."
The floundering contract was hit by another wave of misfortune the following month, according to a document attributed to a consultant who also had membership of the Easter Langlee project team.
The report makes it clear it appears likely that the start on site for the advanced thermal treatment facility will be later than anticipated, because of delays in technology testing, and the knock-on effect this will have in securing the permit.from SEPA.
"The All Reasonable Endeavours (ARE) report indicates further slippage in technology trials, with the second 120 hour trial delayed until the week commencing October 28th 2013.", added the report.
"From a non-technical viewpoint, one's impression reading the report is that there are still some significant technical issues to be overcome before NES could be confident enough to finalise design of the ATT facility, let alone start building it."
And the consultant added to the growing negativity surrounding the project by writing: "Rather ominously, but not surprisingly in the light of the technology trial delay, page eight of the October ARE states that NES are currently carrying out an internal review of the delivery timetable, and 'then wishes to discuss the timetable with SBC. It is anticipated that additional time will be required to deliver the integrated facility.' .
"So we're still in the dark as to the likely start date on site, or commissioning date for the integrated for treatment facility, although in the October ARE NES state that they are targeting financial close for March 2014, commencing construction in April 2014 and service commencement in July 2015. It is in NES's financial interest to get the facilities up and running as early as possible so that they start becoming cash generative, but on the facts as presented this timetable looks optimistic."
As things turned out the new "timetable" outlined by NES proved to be remarkably optimistic. As we will report next SBC would soon receive a letter from New Earth warning of a potential two year delay to the entire scheme.
However, even faced with that devastating setback there is no evidence in the newly released files that SBC even contemplated pulling the plug on the contract in November 2013.