Court to decide if council breached procurement rules over Balfour JV EfW scheme

The High Court is to rule on whether a council breached procurement rules over an Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB) £500m energy-from-waste (EfW) plant in Gloucestershire.

Environmental group Community R4C (CR4C) has brought legal action against Gloucestershire County Council, claiming the local authority did not properly re-tender the Javelin Park EfW plant after plans for the site changed. The job was awarded to the UBB joint venture at “£140m more” than originally stated. The council has denied any wrongdoing and said it ran a competitive process within the law.

In 2012, Gloucestershire County Council signed a £500m deal with UBB to design, build and operate the EfW plant. However, work did not begin on the facility until 2015, with UBB and the council revising the 2012 project plan and updating its financial agreements.

CR4C lawyer Duncan Sinclair alleged in a court hearing last week that there was “consistent and compelling” evidence that a “small cabal” within Gloucestershire County Council knew about the rules breach. If a breach of procurement rules were to be found, he said, there could be a basis to reclaim money from UBB.

Sinclair also claimed the council resisted disclosure of the first contract before the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), before being forced to release the procurement documents by the ICO in 2018.

Sinclair added that CR4C was bringing its case “primarily in the public interest” but that the group would have formed a consortium to bid for the project itself. He said: “The prospects of not only bidding but winning a putative contract were very significant.”

The court will first rule whether CR4C brought their case within 30 days of discovering the claimed breach of procurement law, and whether the body would have been a credible bidder for a re-tendering of the project, before potentially deciding on other elements of the case.

Gloucestershire County Council cabinet member for waste Nigel Moor said in a statement after the hearing: “The council has lodged a robust defence; it would be inappropriate to comment further pending the court’s consideration of this matter.”

CR4C co-founder Tom Jarman said: “COVID-19 is affecting all our lives, but an even bigger problem for us all is environmental damage. We believe this is a landmark environmental case.”

If the judge decides in CR4C’s favour, the case will move to the next stage to determine the substance of the case against the council.

UBB has been contacted for comment.

Earlier this month, UBB lost a dispute with Essex County Council over the design of its waste plant at Tovi Eco Park in Basildon. The judge ruled that the council should receive more than £10m in damages and dismissed UBB’s counter-claim for £77m as having no merit.

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