To Burn or Not to Burn: That is the Question
Understanding the great debate about Gloucestershire County Council’s proposed mass burn incinerator is a challenge. There are so many angles and all are important. But, right now, the most important thing is to see past the latest twist of the Conservative administration’s deception.
Throughout the debates, the Conservatives have clung to the position that the contract will save the taxpayer £150 million. You may wonder how. It works like this. First, they construct a future scenario based on a current process that nobody advocates retaining, i.e. landfill; then, they add in a lot of presumptions about ongoing waste volumes, recycling rates, landfill taxes, etc. – most of which they decline to reveal. They then agree a contract for their preferred alternative and, to be consistent, keep all of the contract’s financial details secret, while assuring everyone it will – by comparison with their future false scenario – be £150m cheaper over 25 years.
You might think it’s impossible to argue against this when you don’t possess all the facts. Well, actually, we know enough to do just that. But the facts that we know are not just about the kind of presumptions they must have made to arrive at their “savings”. They are about the alternative solutions and the likelihood that they would be massively cheaper and more environmentally acceptable. Indeed, they are so much cheaper that opposition county councillors have now been prepared to raise the prospect of a contract cancellation. (See Green Party member Chris Harmer’s detailed paper).
The response of the Conservatives to the opposition’s initiative is to claim that an enormous cancellation cost will be payable and necessitate massive cuts to services and jobs*. They clearly hope that this will panic the opposition into withdrawing. So there are now two issues. Firstly, does the suggested £60 to 100 million cost stack up? Unsurprisingly – NO. Secondly, how much cheaper is the alternative and would it pay for the cancellation? Well, amazingly, YES; even if the cancellation cost was £100 million, which is very unlikely.
The alternative solutions (which the Conservatives are ignoring) could variously:
- Make use of existing capacity and take advantage of the best market prices;
- Make use of existing planning permissions;
- Be financed from the savings they could bring;
- Be delivered via a visually acceptable processing plant;
- Deliver greater recycling;
- Avoid toxic waste production and local concerns about emissions;
- Still generate energy and/or fuels;
And all at a gate fee per tonne of less than half the price UBB will be guaranteed.
The County’s waste reserve – money it had planned to pour into the incinerator’s bottomless funding pit – would go some way toward the cancellation cost and the rest would come from borrowing to be repaid from the ongoing savings, which would be massive.
Stroud District Council (SDC) has offered to fund a study of the contract costs; but it is vital that the cancellation costs be considered in the light of the alternatives that the County Council’s own Plan B committee recommended: both of which involve MBT. Only a Conservative administration determined to save face at any cost could refuse to consider this offer from SDC. We must urge the opposition councillors to study these facts and fight for what is right.
Everyone can add their name to the petition for cancellation at www.glosvain.info and write to their councillor demanding cancellation of the contract (get your councillor’s contact details here). Please also share these arguments with friends, neighbours and colleagues and encourage them to do the same. There will be a further opportunity to show the strength of feeling against the incinerator contract when the County Council debates the opposition’s emergency motion calling for it to be scrapped. Details will be published when available – please come and join us if you can.
Gerald Hartley, January 2015
*The Conservatives at Shire Hall have known for some time that they are required to cut £80 million from their budget as part of the ConDem public spending cuts. Strange then that they didn’t published a long list of service and job cuts that would result from that.