Costly county council landfill waste policy “just cannot go on”

A £73million deal to continue sending waste to landfill has been agreed by Essex County Council amid a fallout from a failed waste processing plant.

The county council has yet to devise a alternative to replace the Eco Tovi site in Basildon, but in the meantime has agreed to spend £73m on extending the landfill contracts for another 18 months until April 2024.

The Eco Tovi site shut its doors after the High Court found in the county council’s favour last year. It means 270,000 tonnes of waste which otherwise would have been diverted away from landfill is now going there annually.

The issues have been complicated further given waste contractor Enovert is still in the process of submitting a planning application to the Waste Planning Authority to extend the operational life of the Bellhouse landfill site, in Colchester

If the planning application is unsuccessful, ECC may need to consider other arrangements to ensure that there is capacity for the disposal of 300,000 tonnes of waste in that 18-month period.

But it was the cost the authority is having to pay that has concerned members sitting at the cabinet meeting today (September 21).

Since 2017, the county council has spent more than £190m on waste contracts – not including today’s spending decision of £73m.

These costs are astronimcal’

Leader of the Lib Dem group Cllr Mike Mackrory said: “I do worry if we are talking about a period of 18 months from October 2022 that is takig us to April 2024 and we are talking about extraordinary amounts of money – that £73m is on top of what have paying since 2017. These costs are astronomical.

“I am sure my colleagues would welcome a further briefing on where we are with replacing the Tovi plant – this just cannot go on, this landfill.

“It goes against everything we are trying to achieve.”

Councillor Malcolm Buckley, cabinet member for Waste Reduction and Recycling, said: “At this point in time I am not in a position to give an accurate estimate of the time it will take for us to bring the alternative proposals forward.

“But I will say it will be as soon as we can possibly do it.

“This is our plan B – it is to buy us the time to make the right and responsible arrangements. It is not about rushing things and getting it wrong.

The county council’s waste policy has been thrown into disarray with the failure of the Tovi Eco Park facility in Basildon and its operator Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB entering into administrative last year.

UBB had already suspended all deliveries of waste into the facility that had been accepting around 270,000 tonnes of black bag waste a year to be processed, avoiding the need for landfill disposal.

The dispute centred on the biohalls at the centre of the facility which was meant to help with the reduction, re-use and recycling of waste and which minimised the amount of waste disposed through landfill.

But they were calculated to be about 50 per cent undersized, which the council said meant the facility could not meet the level of performance first planned for it.

But UBB claimed the wrong type of waste was being sent to the plant.

It was supposed to treat up to 417,000 tonnes of waste from Essex and Southend to ensure the amount sent to landfill was kept to a minimum.

The plant was meant to be able to divert 6.3 million tonnes of biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) from landfill over the life of the 25-year project and avoid the emission of some 2.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

But the court heard because of the difficulties a considerable amount that otherwise would have been diverted was being sent to landfill each year.

Cllr Buckley said: “While we are making further arrangement to make sure that we can bring landfill to an early end, we need an extension to that contract so we can properly deal with waste.

“What we can’t do is nothing.

“It is important to see this as a staging post on our journey to end landfill completely in Essex.”

He added: “It is a disappointment to find the Tovi plant is unable to accept waste at the present time.

“As far as the future of the plant there is further litigation in hand.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter