Landfill concern as Basildon waste plant operator goes into administration

Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste is now being sent straight to landfill after the operator of a waste management facility went into administration.

Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB), the operator of the Tovi Eco Park facility in Basildon, has entered into administrative receivership, Essex County Council (ECC) has been informed.

The facility’s operator had already, from Monday, June 29, 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.

But aside from the impact on the environment and the extra cost of landfill tax to the council, which currently stands at £94 a tonne, the situation has also led to concerns of the increased prospect of a £50 million incinerator in Basildon.

The facility will take waste that already comes to the Clearaway Recycling Facility.

Currently the facility treats around 250,000 tonnes of waste a year. As much material as possible if removed for recycling before the rest goes to landfill.

The plans for the Energy Recovery (ERF) would see up to 150,000 tonnes of this waste left after recycling and instead used to generate low carbon energy.

The ash left over from the process will be used to make bricks on site with heat from the ERF used in this process.

Basildon councillors have made it clear they have very serious concerns over the impact the proposed plant would have on air quality and would oppose the plans. The incinerator would be right next to the area that is already subject to a Government directive to improve air quality and on which the Government has threatened to impose a charging Clean Air Zone.

Cllr Kerry Smith

Kerry Smith, an independent county and Basildon councillor, said: “County will want this incinerator. They cannot keep sending stuff to landfill because it is very expensive.

“This makes me really worried they are going to force this incinerator as it would get rid of all their problems.”

UBB’s plans had earlier been based on “little more than calculations on the back of the proverbial fag pack”, a high court judge ruled.

Mr Justice Pepperall awarded around £10million in compensation to ECC and the right to walk away from the £800million waste deal with UBB in a judgement in June.

He concluded that the ongoing issues with the plant are due to flaws in the owner’s original design, as alleged by ECC, rather than the type of waste it processes, as the owner UBB alleged.

ECC said it is continuing to consider all options which, given the issues at the facility, include termination.

It had warned it has appropriate contingency arrangements in place and if waste cannot be processed at the plant, then in the short term it would be sent to landfill.

By entering into administration UBB appears to have made the decision for ECC.

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.

Due to the failure of the plant Mr Justice Pepperall awarded the authority damages in the agreed sums of £9,038,428 to the end of February 2019 and continuing losses thereafter at £99,563 per month.

Mike Mackrory, leader of the Lib Dem group at ECC, said: “We are all against landfill for all the obvious reasons not least because of landfill tax. The whole thing is a mess.

“I suspect the facility would still be there as an asset but whether it has got a value – it must have some value – and then ECC would be a creditor in a queue for their slice.  That has to be down to negotiations.

“And whether someone can take it over and convert the incinerator I couldn’t say.

“But if this goes on long term then I am horrified at the prospect of these vast quantities of waste going to landfill – plus heavy lorries going from refuse transfer stations to the landfill.

“It is a horrendous prospect altogether.

“A lot of this has been highly confidential and some of us do not know what has been going in the background.

“It is extremely concerning this has happened.”

Cllr Simon Walsh, Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change Action, said: “We would like to reassure residents that they should see no difference in how their bins are collected as a result of this development. Waste will continue to be collected by their local councils and disposed of by the county council.”

The facility is wholly owned and operated by UBB Waste (Essex) Limited. Essex County Council only pays for waste processed through the plant and has not spent any money on the construction of the facility or the equipment contained within.

The safety and security of the site is the responsibility of the facility’s operator.

ECC has been asked to respond over comments regarding the Basildon incinerator plans.

UBB declined to comment.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter