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Lengthy Eco Park Building Delays Discussed in Private SCC Cabinet Session

Published on: 29 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 30 Nov, 2020

Surrey’s “Eco Park” Photo: Rebecca Curley

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Lengthy construction delays in Surrey’s controversial waste management plant Eco Park were discussed in a private county council cabinet meeting on November 24.

A waste gasification plant to produce clean energy, and prevent waste going to landfill, was supposed to be up and running in Shepperton three years ago.

Now the council has removed the £42.3 million asset from its accounts, although continuing to build the gasifier despite admitting it will probably never be used.

The private finance initiative (PFI) provider, Suez, is disposing most of the waste in another energy plant outside the county, and 6.4% of Surrey’s waste is sent to landfill.

SCC leader Tim Oliver told the cabinet: “This has become an extremely protracted contract and there is frustration on all parts.”

He said the council was having daily conversations with Suez. Progress was complicated by four parties being involved, SCC, the main contractor Suez, sub-contractors M&W, and Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Building began in 2015 on the Eco Park, described as a monstrosity by the neighbours, campaign group Satep, Spelthorne Against the Eco Park.

Mr Oliver said: “We’ve got to the point where we need to have clear legal advice on what our remedies are and what we can do to bring this contract to a conclusion, one way or another.”

Legal advisers gave the cabinet four options but these were deemed “contractually sensitive” and they were discussed only after the public was excluded from the meeting.

An external audit of SCC’s accounts for 2019-2020, published this month, reveals the council now thinks the gasifier is unlikely to make them any money, from use or disposal.

It reads, “as such, the council has concluded it is not probable the gasifier would be brought into use”.

But the council said its construction will continue as will that of the planned anaerobic digester to transform food waste.

An SCC spokesman said: “Accounting valuations are not a reflection of any change in intent, but of the financial valuation attached to the benefit to be derived.

“Therefore, the accounting treatment of the gasifier reflects that the council considers there is a possibility it may not be delivered. For now, we can confirm that testing and refinement continues.”

The auditors, Grant Thornton, said they were satisfied “the council’s arrangements to manage the impact of the delays to the delivery of the Eco Park are adequate”.

In the public part of the meeting, Cllr Natalie Bramhall, cabinet member for environment and climate change, said: “The Eco Park will move into operation and be accepted by this council only if and when it passes thorough tests to prove its operation is both safe and reliable.

“I can assure residents that officers and all cabinet members are working really hard to protect the interests of the council and, critically, our taxpayers’ value for money, in the delivery of this contract and the associated construction programme.”

The council said it is paying only for the operational elements of the Eco Park. A bulking plant for recyclables has been running at the site since March 2016.

Many residents have written to Cllrs Bramhall (Con, Redhill West & Meadvale), and Sinead Mooney (Con, Staines), complaining about strong smells, loud alarms at antisocial hours and construction traffic.

Cllr Bramhall said: “Emissions from the stack are continually monitored and Suez are required to comply with strict emissions set out in their environmental permit.”

She urged residents to also send complaints directly to the Environment Agency, which regulates operation of the plant and can close the site if it is concerned.

Cllr Mooney said a working group was being set up with Spelthorne Borough Council and Satep to reach residents.

Spelthorne Cllr Tom Fidler (Lib Dem, Halliford and Sunbury West), said: “We’ve been trying to hold Surrey and Suez to account about the Eco Park for more than 10 years, yet they have failed to explain themselves, despite questions from councillors and residents alike.

“It is great that Spelthorne is trying to instigate proper dialogue about the situation because those of us who live nearby deserve to know exactly what the situation is.

“We hope we can deal in facts and bring accountability to this white elephant that has a dominating impact on our landscape.”

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Responses to Lengthy Eco Park Building Delays Discussed in Private SCC Cabinet Session

  1. Stuart Boyle Reply

    December 1, 2020 at 11:11 pm

    At no time in the history of gasification design worldwide has it ever worked. The very best brains in the UK have said so after building many plants and all have failed. From the outset, Surrey County Council has been aware of this, yet it still went ahead to gain greater financial rewards.

    The fact that under the guise of commissioning, SCC is seeking to obtain further payments from Defra until the March 2021 deadline at a net gain of £66 million while destroying the lives of residents and businesses in Shepperton. It is also worth noting the Digester plant has suffered major problems throughout and to this day has failed to meet the test criteria.

    In short, this atrocity was cobbled together to save repayment to the UK government of funds Surrey had obtained for a waste plan that, up until the demand to repay those funds, had not been delivered.

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