LANCASHIRE’s controversial £2bn waste recycling scheme at Farington and Thornton is to end with the loss of 250 jobs.
Councillors on County Hall’s executive scrutiny committee voted to mothball the two plants, which cost £125m each to build, and instead send the green and food waste they processed to landfill.
The 330 workers at the two plants were originally told in November of the plans to cut costs by cash-strapped the county council and a proposal was put forward to change the way waste was dealt with in the county.
Yesterday the committee voted to go ahead with mothballing. They are now undergoing a redundancy programme, with all but a staff of around eight at each site due to go by June.
The Global Renewables private finance initiative was, when signed in 2007, said to be the biggest such deal in the UK. It was a 25-year agreement which aimed to treat 300,000 tonnes of council-collected waste a year.
Reports emerged in 2012 that more than 70 per cent of the waste sent to the two plants ended up being diverted to landfill, with machinery still in the commissioning process.
In 2014 the council was forced to cancel the private finance initiative contract and take control of the operation.
In the meeting, Leyland South West Conservative councillor Michael Green described the whole project as a “failure of catastrophic proportions” which had badly damaged the reputation of the whole council.
He said his constituents at the time 20 years ago it was built expressed fears over the green and food waste composting because of smells, noise and “local effects” on the community.
He said: “Those fears were dismissed at the time but many of them came to be true.
“It has done tremendous damage to the environment in those areas and a tremendous amount of damage to the reputation of the county council.
“They have caused taxpayers a significant financial loss in the hundreds of millions of pounds over the years, it has been a failure of catastrophic proportions, as was the contract for a period of 25 years.”
He said proper due diligence had not been done before the signing of the private finance initiative contract with the original Global Renewables company from Australia which supplied the two huge organic waste recycling machines.
He added: “It is appalling in my view and will no-one take responsibility? People who signed the contract should consider their positions.”
Preston North Conservative councillor Geoff Driver, who has been a severe critic of the Global Renewables project, said at the meeting
“This is just the latest episode in a very, very sorry saga.
“The route chosen to deal with the county’s waste has been shown to be a disaster.
“It has cost the people of Lancashire hundreds of millions of pounds.”
Lancaster Green Party councillor Gina Dowding asked what would happen to the residual waste now and if it would be incinerated.
Steve Scott, the council’s head of waste management, said even before the changes a third of the waste ended up in landfill at Whinney Hill, near Accrington.
He explained that there were now cheaper ways of dealing with waste and other operators skipped the removal of the organic element and simply processed it all straight into fuel.
He said the bottom had dropped out of the recyclables market in recent years due to falling oil prices and China’s economic slowdown and that three years ago the council was getting £4m more for its recyclables that it was now.
He said that co-mingled waste (bottles, plastics and glass) would continue to be separated out as that part of the sites process were still viable and that the composting parts would be mothballed in case EU regulations changed in the future or until a buyer could be found for the equipment.
Gina Dowding said: “There is a huge issue here I feel about the loss of skills, passion and commitment of the labour force at the sites and as well as the people there losing their jobs.”
Leader of the Council Jennifer Mein said efforts had already begun to help the affected workers.
She said: “The 250 jobs under threat are relatively low skill. Part of the ongoing process is to upskill those people who will no longer have jobs with the facilities closing.”
Conservative councillor John Shedwick, from Amounderness, asked what would happen to the “huge acreage of land” near his division in Thornton and the equipment there and at Farington.
Steve Scott said: “A market testing exercise will give us more idea about the future. There is interest in the facilities. We have met with a number of companies who are interested.”
After the meeting Jenny Mein, leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “Lancashire is in a much better position than a number of other local authorities which also invested in PFI-funded mechanical and biological treatment facilities because we successfully restructured the financing for the sites in 2014 to make an annual saving on the contract of £12m. That has also put us in a position to now consider other options and save a further £8.5m a year.
“The process we have was designed to prevent organic waste, such as food left in household bins, being landfilled, and provided a more cost-effective method of dealing with our rubbish as well as producing a form of compost.
“People are throwing far less food away, meaning the proportion of organics in residual waste has greatly declined, leaving us with a process which is effective, but costly for a relatively small proportion of organic waste, particularly when compared with other options.
“At the same time, a separate reason why we must take advantage of cheaper options to process Lancashire’s waste, and why the waste recovery parks have become uneconomical, is because the government moved the goalposts in 2013 by abolishing what were very high penalties for landfilling organic waste.”