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Council ordered to disclose further information on incinerator deal

The Information Commissioner’s Office has told Gloucestershire County Council to disclose further commercial details of an incinerator deal, despite accepting that this could damage the interests of both the local authority and developer Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB).

There have been numerous freedom of information cases about the controversial £500m Javelin Park incinerator and Gloucestershire was last year ordered by the First Tier Tribunal to disclose most of the data it had wished to withhold.

In the latest case an applicant argued that a report by consultant EY should be published because it updated information the council had previously published following the tribunal’s instructions.

Gloucestershire argued that the information concerned had been provided by UBB beyond the terms of its contract and in the expectation it would remain confidential.

UBB feared disclosure would undermine its position in future competitive tenders, and the council wanted to avoid publication of what it charged for the use of spare waste capacity and sale prices for the incinerator’ electricity.

The commissioner accepted disclosure would “harm the legitimate economic interest of the council and UBB”.

But the ICO concluded that the public interest outweighed this. “It is impossible for the public to be fully aware of the overall value for money of the project in the long term if it is unable to analyse the full figures regarding costs and price estimates which the council was working from at the time of the revised project plan,” the ruling said.

Gloucestershire was allowed to withhold some limited aspects of the disputed data.

A Gloucestershire spokesperson said: “We recognise the public interest in this matter and have complied with all previous Information Commissioner’s Office requests, however the legislation and guidance is unclear. We have to make sure we balance the needs of our contractors for commercial sensitivity with the desire to provide as much information as possible into the public domain. 

“It is important for us to make sure that we get the best possible deal for Gloucestershire taxpayers. There are details in the contract and the report which could undermine our ability to do this. We will be going through the latest ICO ruling and will respond to it in due course."

Gloucestershire said the incinerator, due to open next year, would save more than £100m and generate sufficient power for 25,000 homes.

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