Call for inquiry into council’s £2.4m waste write-off

The advanced thermal treatment plant was planned for the recycling centre and landfill at Easter Langlee.
The advanced thermal treatment plant was planned for the recycling centre and landfill at Easter Langlee.

Following an investigation spanning two-and-a-half years, a retired Borders journalist is pressing for an inquiry into Scottish Borders Council’s failed and costly bid to bring a regional waste treatment plant to Galashiels.

Bill Chisholm from Jedburgh has been using Freedom of Information legislation to uncover details of a saga which ended in February 2015, when the council scrapped its 2012 deal with Dorset-based New Earth Solutions Group (NESG) and revealed it had been forced to write off £2.4million in the abortive procurement process.

Borders journalist Bill Chisholm.

Borders journalist Bill Chisholm.

At the time, the council cited “technological and financial issues” for the demise of a contract which was worth £80m over 24 years and included the provision of a £23m advanced thermal treatment (ATT) plant at Easter Langlee.

The council’s hopes of meeting Scottish Government zero waste targets are now pinned on a £4.8m waste transfer station at the same site, from where around 40,000 tonnes of household rubbish will be transported annually outwith the region.

With a planning application for that facility due to be determined next month, Mr Chisholm has this week published his 43-page report on the NESG affair, based on hundreds of documents which the council has been ordered to disclose by the Scottish Information Commissioner.

He has sent his report to his local Conservative MSP Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) along with other Borders-based MSPs Christine Grahame (SNP), Paul Wheelhouse (SNP) and Michelle Ballantyne (Con).

“I have asked Mrs Hamilton as my constituency MSP to raise the issue of this affair, which cost Borders council tax payers at least £2.4m, in the Scottish Parliament with a view to securing an inquiry.

“I hope our other MSPs will support this request.”

Mr Chisholm – awarded an MBE for services to his profession – said he has been “heartened” on Monday to receive a message from Mrs Hamilton.

“She has undertaken to look into the matter for me and also on behalf of Borders residents,” he told The Southern.

“In my view, my report clearly shows the council mishandled the contract on many fronts, but no-one has been held to account.

“It also explains why it has taken so long to assemble a reasonably clear picture of why the deal went so badly wrong.”

The Southern sought a response on Monday from Scottish Borders Council but, at the time of going to press, this had not been forthcoming.