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£54m claim turns up the heat over authority’s incinerator

A LOCAL authority has launched a £54m lawsuit over a troubled waste plant that was once hailed as a model for the whole of the UK.

Neath Port Talbot Council has issued a High Court writ against two dormant companies in the Currie & Brown Group, which offered technical advice over the project at Crymlyn Burrows, near Neath. It is one of the largest sums ever claimed in litigation relating to the construction industry.

Soon after the £32m plant opened in 2002, neighbouring residents complained of odours coming from it. It was temporarily shut down for environmental breaches in 2003, and later damaged by fire.

The defendants in the action are Currie & Brown Project Management and Currie & Brown Consulting, both of which are dormant companies.

Currie & Brown Project Management produced a technical due diligence report on the project for investors in 2000. Currie & Brown Consulting was appointed technical adviser to the investors in 2000 and the division was also appointed technical adviser to the council in 2002.

The case is scheduled for April 2009 and will be tried in Bristol by a High Court judge.

Will Watson, corporate director for the environment at Neath Port Talbot council, said: “The council is seeking damages following the failure of the materials recycling and energy centre to achieve anything like its contracted performance levels, particularly in terms of diverting waste from landfill, recycling and the production of compost.”

A spokeswoman for Currie & Brown confirmed the two companies in the group were facing a £54m claim from the council.

“The matter is in the hands of our insurers,” she said. “We do not wish to comment further.”

In May it emerged that Neath Port Talbot Council was suing neighbouring Bridgend Council for around £5m in connection with problems relating to the plant, which is officially described as Crymlyn Burrows Materials Recovery and Energy Centre.

Domestic rubbish from both council areas is disposed of at the plant, which processes material for recycling and incinerates other waste.

It is understood that during legal arguments between the two local authorities, Neath Port Talbot threatened to ban Bridgend from sending waste to the plant.

The Crymlyn Burrows waste processing plant has been controversial since before it opened in 2002.

Residents opposed it on health grounds, claiming there was no truly safe limit for the dioxins emitted by the incinerator. Dioxins are associated with birth defects, heart disease, infertility, respiratory problems and cancers.

But local authorities, who point out the incinerator has to comply with emission standards, saw it as a way to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill in advance of targets set by the European Commission in 2010.

From the outset the plant processed around 150,000 tonnes of domestic refuse a year from Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend.

The plant was built and initially run by Portuguese operator HLC, but in 2005 Neath Port Talbot Council pulled the plug on HLC Neath Port Talbot after the firm went into administration.

Neath Port Talbot Council took over running the plant and in 2006 it was reported losses totalling more than £67m could accrue over 25 years unless a new operating partner was found. A legal tug-of-war ensued between the council and HLC’s creditor, the Royal Bank of Scotland, which was seeking to recoup some of its £40m debt with the plant’s assets. The dispute was settled out of court in November 2006, putting the plant firmly in the hands of Neath Port Talbot Council.

Early last year, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend councils said they were planning to award a new 25-year contract for operating the facility.

In late April the two authorities issued a joint statement, saying: “Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot councils are in discussions concerning a contractual matter related to waste disposal arrangements and both are hopeful that an early resolution will be possible. At this stage, neither council is prepared to make any further comment.”

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June 2011 Last updated at 08:01 GMT

Neath waste plant reopens after closure

Crymlyn Burrows Materials Recovery and Energy Centre

The Crymlyn Burrows waste incinerator opened in 2002

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A waste incinerator which was voluntarily shut down after breaching its limit for emissions has reopened.

Environment Agency Wales has agreed that the council-owned plant at Crymlyn Burrows in Neath Port Talbot can restart its combustion unit.

It closed in December 2010 after air samples showed it had failed five out of 10 dioxin emissions tests.

The latest tests have found the emissions are now within the standards of the site’s environmental permit.

The plant, which opened in 2002, processes household waste for recycling and incineration from Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend.

It is operated by Neath Port Talbot (Recycling) Ltd – a wholly-owned subsidiary of the council

Breaches were not ever at levels to cause health problems.

The EA work gave the go-ahead after operators completed an agreed programme of work to resolve dioxin emissions.

This has included extensive refurbishment and cleaning of the plant and equipment used to control pollution.

In the future operators will use an enhanced programme to monitor emissions and ensure standards are maintained.

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