Thursday, 31 December 2009

Verdict is warning to council on incinerator plan - Gormley

The High Court judgment that found Dublin City Council’s attempts to change the household bin collection system were anti-competitive has been welcomed by Minister for the Environment John Gormley.

Mr Gormley said that, in light of the decision, the council would be digging itself into “deeper trouble” by going ahead with building the 600,000-tonne incinerator at Poolbeg.

However, the council said the judgment would not stop it from proceeding with the waste-to-energy facility, on which construction began last week.

Mr Justice Liam McKechnie found that the council abused its dominant position in the capital’s waste market, and said the planned Poolbeg incinerator was “not free from uncertainty”.

Private waste collection firms - Greenstar and Panda - took cases against the decision to change the waste management permit system to give the four Dublin local authorities more control over who collects waste in the city.

The council decided in 2008 to change the Dublin Region Waste Management Plan to allow it to decide on the collection of household waste - either through providing its own collection service or tendering for a contractor. This change, if implemented, would have stopped private companies from competitively offering their services to households.

Mr Justice McKechnie said Panda was “entitled to relief” - adding that Greenstar, which had undertaken a separate but linked case, “will also succeed” against the council.

Mr Gormley said he would study the details of the court’s decision, but added that it had clear implications for the future of the Poolbeg plant. “On the face of it, it bears out the concerns I have been expressing directly to Dublin City Council and publicly since I took office. The clear message from the courts is that Dublin City Council has tried to act outside its powers.”

The council needed to take stock of the court decision, he said.

“My door is always open if they wish to engage with my department on plotting a way forward. If they decide to disregard the implications of this judgment and proceed with the incinerator as planned, they will only dig themselves into deeper trouble.”

The Irish Waste Management Association (IWMA) said the council had being trying to “seize control of waste and kill off competition” in order to make the Poolbeg incinerator viable.

“The aim was clear - Dublin City Council, which is currently developing one of the largest incinerators in Europe at Poolbeg, needs to have total control of waste, so that it has enough fuel to feed this grossly oversized facility for the next 25 years,” IWMA spokesman Brendan Keane said.

Greenstar chief executive Neil Parkinson said the judgment “throws a spanner in the works” of the council’s attempts to control the waste market in Dublin.

“[The council] has guaranteed to supply the waste to the grossly oversized incinerator it is seeking to develop jointly with Covanta in Poolbeg and it will face penalties if it does not deliver the volume of waste contracted. With today’s ruling, it is becoming clear that, unfortunately, it is the Irish taxpayer who will once again have to underwrite a bad deal.”

The council said it needed to consult its legal advisers before commenting on the judgment, but in a statement said it still intended to go ahead with the incinerator.

The Irish Times

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