More flaws in waste transfer bid revealed

Easter Langlee Landfill Site near Galashiels.
Easter Langlee Landfill Site near Galashiels.

Hitherto-confidential documents have cast more light on the ill-fated decision by Scottish Borders Council to commission a private company to treat the region’s waste at Galashiels.

They show that thousands of tonnes of rubbish could have had to be imported into the region by road each year to make the waste plant viable.

Details of this “waste shortage” are contained in documents disclosed to retired Jedburgh journalist Bill Chisholm.

They reveal that to provide financial viability for the project, the council had to agree to pay for a minimum of 40,000 tonnes of waste a year to be treated, even if the amount it collected fell below that figure.

In 2011, when the orginal agreement between Scottish Borders Council and New Earth Solutions (NES) for a waste transfer station at Easter Langlee was signed, special provisions were written into the contract document to allow the council to source “substitute” waste to make up the tonnage figure to 40,000.

At that time, the amount of waste tonnage collected annually in the Borders had fallen from 45,000 tonnes at the start of the tender period to 38,500 tonnes in 2011-12 due to recycling schemes and the “current recession”.

In February, 2015, the entire contract was scrapped on “technological and financial grounds”, forcing the council to write-off the £2.4m it had spent on the abortive procurement process.

Since then, the council has resisted attempts by Mr Chisholm to disclose documents which informed the decisions in 2011 and 2012.

The council claimed publication of that paperwork could cause NES “commercial and reputational damage” despite the firm having become insolvent last year.

But disclosure was ordered by former Scottish information commissioner Rosemary Agnew, and the local authority has now complied with her order.

One document flags up that the minimum tonnage requirement would be further compromised by the impending introduction of kerbside food waste collections.

Councillors were told the downward trend in the amount of rubbish generated by local households was “limiting the funding available to NES for their Borders project”.

Mr Chisholm said: “All I have seen so far is a catalogue of warning signs that the council’s relationship with this company should have been ended long before 2015.”

Original plans for a waste transfer station were changed in 2012 to include a fully integrated advanced thermal treatment plant after councillors were told that NES could not obtain bank funding for the original stand-alone mechanical biological treatment plant. It agreed to go ahead with the thermal treatment plant despite lack of evidence of its viability.