Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Big Stink over Waste Collection changes as PFI cost of closing plants is questioned

Local County Councillor Gina Dowding at last week's County Council Executive Scrutiny Committee 
There could be a big stink brewing over changes to waste collection in Lancashire, after the County Council decided to call time on its £2 billion waste recycling scheme at Farington and Thornton, which could see 260 people losing their jobs.

We reported yesterday on changes that mean household food waste will no longer be collected from April 2016, and the City Council is advising householders to stop separating that waste from general rubbish now, or, if they can, compost it.

Last week, councillors on the County Council's Executive Scrutiny Committee voted to mothball the two plants, which cost £125m each to build, and instead send the green and food waste they processed to landfill.

But even if they're closed, it seems LCC could still be paying for them for the next 20 years, if they are not sold off to a third party.

The building of both plants was funded by a massive Private Finance Initiative contract with the original Global Renewables company from Australia, which supplied the two huge organic waste recycling machines.

The two plants were designed to separate recyclates and biodegradeable waste from bin bag rubbish. The biodegradeable waste, including food was used to produce biogas and subsequently electricity and compost. But virtual-lancaster understands that even before the plant opened, Lancashire County Council directed that the district councils should collect food waste with green waste, which goes to a different part of the plant.

“The plants are closing not just because food waste collection is stopping, but because LCC want to save an alleged sum of money and send bin bag waste to landfill,” one irate worker facing redundancy notes, “which is cheaper than running the plant and recovering recyclables and energy.”

The County Council says the very severe financial situation they face means they had to take advantage of more cost-effective ways to process some types of waste.

"Our current processing facilities were designed to prevent organic waste being landfilled,” commented County Councillor Clare Pritchard, “as landfill taxes at the time meant it would cost vastly more to continue landfilling organic waste. However, the government abolished the penalty for landfilling organics in 2013.”

The decision doomed the two multi-million pound plants which the Evening Post reports have had a controversial history, even before they were built, with some councillors at the meeting noting their huge cost. 

260 workers now face redundancy – and an award winning education service which has worked with 40,000 Lancashire and Blackpool children teaching them about sustainable living has also been scrapped.

The MRF at Leyland will operate but the two MBT processes will cease operation from 1st April.
The decision certainly seems to require further scrutiny and challenging. As the plants were, we understand, the second biggest PFI project in the country, virtual-lancaster has to wonder why the people responsible have not been held accountable for the procurement with public money? And, of course, we note that council tax payers will continue to pay for the plants for next 20 years, whichever option the council replaces their waste collection with in the short term.

Green campaigners say it's now even more important to continue separating your recyclates because no plant to recover it for you. It always has been important as there are more markets for it with a wider range of products.

• The film of the County Council’s Executive Scrutiny Committee meeting's discussion on the waste changes can be viewed here on the LCC web site

• The agenda and documents for the entire Executive Scrutiny Committee meeting can be viewed here

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