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Value-for-money probe into county incinerator
AN INDEPENDENT probe has been launched over whether Worcestershire’s controversial incinerator is ‘value for money’.
Your Worcester News can reveal how the Government’s National Audit Office has agreed to urgently investigate the Hartlebury scheme after a vociferous campaign from concerned residents.
The inquiry has been instigated after campaigners questioned the costs behind the plant, which has been in planning since the 1990s.
The facility, which will burn rubbish from households, has set up costs of around £120m, although campaigners say taxpayers will fork out £1 billion under the lifetime of a 25-year contract.
The probe will focus on the funding deal between Worcestershire County Council and DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) for the facility.
It will look at DEFRA's role in promoting 'value for money' as part of that deal.
It comes just weeks after the county council was forced to delay a final vote on the incinerator because a last-ditch financial offer was put on the table.
A spokesman for the National Audit Office said: “The reason for this work is because of the correspondence we’ve had from members of the public - there’s been a lot of it.”
Under a Private Finance Initiative, the contract signed in 1998 with West Mercia Waste runs until 2023.
Planning permission and Government approval has already been granted for the plant, but the investigation threatens to delay it further.
Campaigner Louise Brookes, from Herefordshire and Worcestershire Action Group, said: “I’m not surprised by this - we’ve never been shown the business case and taxpayers could end up fleeced.”
The campaigners say the council could save at least £1m per year by scrapping the plant and looking at alternatives, but County Hall’s politicians insist they have investigated all other options.
The council says the plant will generate energy for 20,000 homes by burning rubbish, but that is also disputed by campaigners.
Bosses are anxious for a swift conclusion because they fear being crippled by ever-increasing landfill taxes unless they can get it finalised.
Councillor Adrian Hardman, the leader, said: “I’m determined to protect our environment and importantly look after every penny in the public purse.
“I therefore want this project to be decided as soon as possible so we can move away from land filling our residual waste after recycling as much as we can.”
The National Audit Office is also investigating waste plants in Norfolk and Surrey, and say findings will be made public in early 2014.
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