St Dennis incinerator 'expensive way to continue poor waste performance'
Cornwall Council's "defensive position" over the planned £117 million incinerator is "bizarre in these times of austerity", leading waste consultants have said.
Experts at Eunomia were commissioned by opponents of the massive energy-from-waste plant at St Dennis, in Mid Cornwall, to examine the council's 30-year contract with SITA. Its report said the council could make potential savings of £320 million over the lifetime of the contract by pursuing alternatives, such as anaerobic digestion and the sale of recyclable materials – a figure which far outstripped the "relatively small" £125 million cost of abandoning the current deal.
Their findings were debated at County Hall earlier this month, although councillors merely decided to "note" the report rather than pursue its recommendations.
In a letter to the Western Morning News, Eunomia director Joe Papineschi said they were "surprised and disappointed" at the lack of dialogue with the council. He stressed they had "no axe to grind on the issue of incinerators" and had advised clients "whose proposals included energy from waste where this is the right solution, and campaigners against incinerators where they represent poor value".
Mr Papinsechi said: "Had we been invited, we should have been very glad to attend, at no cost to the council, to explain to councillors and officers why exiting Cornwall's private finance initiative (PFI) contract with SITA is entirely possible, that an alternative could be implemented far faster than the council claims, and how this would lead to very significant savings.
"The defensive position that the council appears to have adopted seems bizarre in these times of austerity given the sums of money involved."
He added: "Cornwall used to lead the recycling league, but now languishes in the bottom 25% of local authorities.
"In the 15 years since the PFI plan was hatched, the world of waste has moved on and far better alternatives now exist.
"Our analysis shows that the PFI contract is a very expensive way to ensure that Cornwall continues its poor environmental performance on waste for decades to come."
The case put by Eunomia has been criticised by both council officers and some members. Councillor Fiona Ferguson said Eunomia's plan to switch to anaerobic digestion would see 116,000 tons of waste still going to landfill which, at £80 per ton, and with costs expected to rise, was "a bill we can't pay".
Nigel Blackler, head of transportation, waste and environment, said the waste management strategy was based on "a sharp move away from the current levels of reliance on landfill".
He added: "Therefore, to landfill at such high rates as proposed by Eunomia is not acceptable within the current policy context."
Ken Rickard, chairman of Cornwall Waste Forum's St Dennis branch, said the incinerator plans were "outdated".
He added: "The reason why Cornwall Council will not seek an independent in-depth assessment of the Eunomia findings, with their potential savings of £320 million, remains questionable, especially in these financially restrained times."