COUNTY councillors have agreed to sign a 25-year contract with Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB) for a £500 million incinerator at Javelin Park near Haresfield.

Conservative cabinet members unanimously approved the awarding of the contract last Wednesday, September 12, despite calls from anti-incineration campaigners and opposition parties for a delay.

By putting pen to paper on the contract, the SNJ understands that Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) will commit to pay UBB more than £15 million in compensation if planning permission for the facility is refused.

Ahead of last Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, members of GlosVAIN and political opponents of the project had claimed that councillors on the planning committee would be put under undue pressure to approve the plans because of the potential payout.

Speaking prior to the meeting, former Stroud MP David Drew, who had joined anti-incineration campaigners on the steps outside Shire Hall, said it was ‘outrageous’ to sign the contract before the planning committee had met.

His words were echoed by Stroud’s deputy mayor John Marjoram who accused the county council’s Tory administration of ‘potentially trying to blackmail’ councillors into giving UBB planning permission.

A report by GCC’s environment overview and scrutiny committee, which met on Monday September 10, had recommended that the cabinet postpone signing the contract until after councillors had considered the planning application.

In their report to the cabinet, members of the overview and scrutiny committee raised concerns that their counterparts on the planning committee would be put in a‘difficult position’ because of the cost of refusing the plans.

GCC’s cabinet champion for waste Stan Waddington resolutely defended the decision to press ahead with the contract signing however.

Cllr Waddington said the procurement and planning processes were entirely separate and that GCC was following Defra guidelines by awarding the contract at this stage.

He said that the authority risked having to pay UBB more if it did not fix its costs by signing the contract.

The capped sum GCC will pay UBB if planning permission is refused is intended to cover the costs the company has incurred in putting together its bid for the project.

Cllr Waddington said these costs would have to be determined in court and could potentially be much higher if the contract signing did not go ahead now.

“Councillors are not allowed to take into account any financial impact so I do not think it places planning members in a difficult position,” said Cllr Waddington.

His view was contested by members of GlosVAIN and the Lib Dem leader Jeremy Hilton however.

Before the meeting the chairman of GlosVAIN, Sue Oppenheimer, said the objectivity of councillors on the planning committee would be compromised, whilst speaking afterwards, Cllr Hilton lampooned GCC’s administration for not taking the advice of its own environment overview and scrutiny committee. 

Javier Peiro of Urbaser Balfour Beatty said: “Urbaser Balfour Beatty is pleased that Gloucestershire County Council’s cabinet has awarded the contract for a long-term solution to the county’s waste problem.

“We have worked closely with the council to develop a solution for Gloucestershire and are confident that this contract offers excellent value and benefits for the county.”