Incinerator plan a recipe for disaster

Attwood acknowledged gasification is incineration.

Attwood acknowledged gasification is incineration.

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Ill-conceived, mismanaged and (a) total failure.

That’s the view of at least one close observer of the procurement process for the proposed incinerator at Campsie.

The incineration (“gasification”) project falls within the remit of the North West Regional Waste Management Group (NWRWMG). The terms of procurement dictate that the NWRWMG be in a position to announce the contract for the facility by the end of October - otherwise the entire process could come to a juddering halt.

The NWRWMG is one of three bodies set up to handle waste disposal across the North. Each covers specific council areas, but is staffed by Stormont civil servants, not council officers.

Arc21 represents 11 councils in the east; the Southern Waste Management Partnership (SWaMP) covers seven in the south west; NWRWMG takes in eight in the north west, including Derry.

By March this year, the number of bidders for the £240 million Arc21 contract had fallen to one - the Becon Consortium, led by E.ON Energy from Waste. So much for the bracing effects of “competition”.

SWaMP had already abandoned the process after a threatened legal challenge to the sole remaining consortium, the Quinn Group. The group had allegedly taken on new partners after having been named as the preferred bidder.

Meanwhile, we still await an explanation of why it took NWRWMG two years to award preferred bidder status to the one Final Tender submitted back in July 2011. One source of difficulty has been that one of components of the bidder has been in court with Derry City Council over a separate but related waste disposal issue.

Each of the envisaged facilities across the North was to be financed through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), a scheme involving guaranteed payments from the public purse to private shareholders, probably over a 25-year period. This would lock tax- and rate-payers into a hugely expensive but potentially unsustainable commitment. A minimum tonnage of waste would be required to be delivered to each plant each year at a guaranteed price per ton. There is no certainty that the figures would stack up over time and some reason to believe that they would not.

Technology in the area is developing fast. No-one can be certain that a plant built today will be economically viable five or 10 years from now. But payments to shareholders from public funds will still be legally due. This is a recipe for disaster.

All this, plus the closely-related saga of alleged criminality in waste disposal at the City Waste site at Mobuoy Road. It’s worth noting again that just before his replacement at Environment by Mark H. Durkan, Alex Attwood spoke of hundreds of thousands of tons of waste dumped illegally, the involvement in the scandal of criminal gangs and the necessity of a clean-up operation costing vast sums of money. But, mysteriously, the matter seems to have fallen off the political and media agenda, without any sign of an investigation commensurate with the apparent scale of the crime.

If ever there was a suitable case for a full-scale inquiry, this is it.