Monday, 25 July 2011

A lack of transparency at Cornwall Council

Last week, I was present at a meeting of Cornwall Council’s Waste Panel. It was certainly not a good advert for local government, or openness and transparency. The meeting was convened to update councillors on the “revised project plan” being worked up for the construction of an incinerator at St Dennis.

Some background first. Cornwall Council signed an “Intregrated Waste Management Contract” with SITA in 2006. The decision of the former County Council to refuse permission for the incinerator meant that works could not be commenced by March 2010. This triggered clauses in the Contract which meant that the Council could terminate it, if they wished, or ask for a revised project plan.

Cornwall Council’s Cabinet declined to investigate the option of termination and invited SITA to present a revised project plan. The Secretary of State also granted consent for the plant in June, while a group of people from the St Dennis area recently launched a 288 challenge against the decision. This will go to the High Court.

At the Waste Panel meeting, we were told that the Council had obtained a legal opinion from a QC that stated the challenge was unlikely to be successful. The recommendation was that work be started, “at risk,” on the purchase of land and the construction of roads. It would be “at risk” because it would be before the new plan is agreed or the outcome of the challenge known. The cost of these works was estimated at £3-4 million.

I asked scores of questions and sought to challenge much of what we were being told. First, I asked about the QC’s opinion and, as an elected member, requested to see the full document. I was told that it was confidential and I could not see it. So much for transparency.

When the progress towards the revised project plan was discussed, it was noted that the incinerator proposal was the same as the one agreed by the Secretary of State, but had been recosted and would now be considerably more expensive.

As much of the discussion was about cost, I asked the obvious question: how much would it cost to build the incinerator? I was told that the figures were not yet known.

So I pointed out that the report stated that SITA had identified a new preferred bidder (out of nine original interested companies) to build the plant and that they had been judged on a range of criteria including “value for money” and the “contract price.”

At this point, it was acknowledged that a likely contract price was therefore known but they were not going to tell us what it was anyway. So much for openness and democracy.

In spite of the lack of information, the majority of councillors at the Panel meeting voted to support works being commenced “at risk.” I was one of two councillors who took the opposite view.

The final decision will be taken by the Cabinet this week (Wednesday).

I have some further comments about aspects of the meeting, which I will blog about later. A range of briefing and discussions have also been held in recent weeks about housing numbers for Cornwall over the next 20 years. I have been meaning to blog about it for some time, but promise it will happen this week.

1 comment:

Lance said...

''The general consensus now is that incinerators are an unsustainable and obsolete method for dealing with waste. As a waste treatment technology, incinerators are unreliable and produce a secondary waste stream more dangerous than the original. As an energy production method, they are inefficient and wasteful of resources. As an economic development tool, they are a catastrophe that drains money out of local communities and creates scarce and often dangerous jobs.
The only reason that SITA is lobbying so hard in Cornwall is that they are unable to use this technology in many countries. This, along with the Carlyon Bay development, is another example of the Cornish Councils serving their residents so poorly!”
Above - I added to This is Cornwall blog!