County planning complete overhaul of how it deals with waste

The entire waste disposal system in Essex should be decentralised as part of a root and branch review, the county council has been urged.

Essex County Council (ECC) is set to spend £1.8 million to develop a new waste portfolio, largely because the Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) plant in Basildon– a main spoke of the strategy – has been out of action since June.

The money to be drawn from it – the council waste reserves which total around £120 million, by far the largest reserve it has amassed – will be used to create a new waste team within the council for a number of priorities.

Most notably Wto “ensure that waste strategy is fit-for-purpose” and to deliver an update on the council’s Integrated Waste Handling Contract and to ensure appropriate procurement frameworks are in place to manage ECC’s statutory obligations to treat residual and bio-waste streams.

The final priority project is defining the future provision for Recycling Centres for Household Waste (RCHW). This project seeks to review the current complement of RCHW’s and ensure that the provision best meets the needs of Essex residents.

The need to put in place a new system has become even more pressing given that hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste is now being sent straight to landfill after the operator of a waste management facility entered administration after a court ruling went in favour of ECC in June.

The facility’s operator Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB), the operator of the Tovi Eco Park facility in Basildon, subsequently 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.

Since then, instead of first being sent to the Tovi facility for processing, black bag waste has been sent to landfill via waste transfer stations.

The 417,000 tonne capacity plant built under a 25 year £800 million contract between the two signed in 2012 never properly worked – ECC argued that the plant was not built correctly.

Councillor James Abbott, who has repeatedly asked for more transparency over ECC’s waste plan said the review offers a chance for a better strategy.

He said: “The paper did talk about climate change which is very welcome.

“I would like them to do what we suggested they do over 20 years ago, which is to have a more decentralised approach.

“So don’t rely on one or two monolithic plants where you are transferring waste huge distances across the county which is what they set up and has collapsed.

“There should be facilities more dotted around the county near the larger towns because then you have the local catchment and good transport network.

“They should focus on recycling and reducing waste rather than disposal and up the recycling targets.

“It’s a more complicated and more involved approach but we think it would have really long term benefits with less waste moved around the county and have more local buy in from districts.”

The PFI contract with Urbaser Balfour Beatty remains subject to the appeal and to potential further dispute resolution proceedings.

Even if permission to the appeal is granted, it is very likely that many of the projects in the waste portfolio would be unaffected and still need to be delivered in order to ensure that statutory requirements are met.

A statement as part of a decision notice reads: “This option will ensure that the waste portfolio can be further developed.

“In doing so, it will enable key strategic initiatives to be underpinned, statutory obligations to be met and provide opportunities to limit expansion of costs within the waste budget.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter