All Scottish Borders Council’s elected members knew the risks when, at a private meeting on October 25, 2012, they agreed to sign a 24-year £180million deal for the provision of an advanced waste management treatment plant at Easter Langlee near Galashiels.
Although the minutes of that fateful gathering have never been published, chief executive Tracey Logan insisted last week that councillors had been aware the heat generating technology involved was “new and untested”.
As it turned out, it was for precisely that reason that the contract with New Earth Solutions (NES), which would have seen 80% of the region’s waste diverted away from landfill, was scrapped in February this year, forcing the council to write off the £2million it had spent on a failed procurement process which began in 2008.
The ramifications were writ large on Thursday when councillors were asked to decide what to with the 43,000 tonnes of residual household and municipal waste which is landfilled annually at Easter Langlee.
They were told an urgent decision was required with two major deadlines looming – the summer of 2017 when the Galashiels dump will reach full capacity and January 1, 2021 when the Scottish Government implements a ban on all biodegradable waste going to landfill.
As expected, they agreed an interim solution, described as “flexible and pragmatic” by head of neighbourhood services Jenni Craig.
The huge landfill site will be “closed, capped and restored” in 2017 and, on the area where NES was due to operate, an enclosed, odour-controlled waste transfer station (WTS) will be erected.
From there and from smaller existing transfer stations in Hawick and Peebles, all the region’s waste will be transported to treatment facilities outwith the Borders.
The radical change will involve an extra capital spend of £4.5million, but chief financial officer David Robertson said this borrowing would have no adverse implications for any other capital projects already approved.
He added that, once up and running, the new system would cost SBC £5.1million a year – less than the £5.4million annual revenue spend which the NES deal would have involved.
“We’re between a rock and hard place,” acknowledged Councillor Bill White (Galashiels & District) who feared the council could be “held to ransom” by external waste treatment providers.
Ms Craig told him: “There is a risk that gate fees can go up, but this will be mitigated by not tying ourselves to long-term treatment contracts and using multiple providers.”