A major multi-million pound tender for waste treatment in the south-west of Northern Ireland has had to be scrapped under threat of legal action — costing the public millions.
The controversial Quinn Group was the only remaining bidder left in the SWaMP2008 process, a joint venture between eight councils — Armagh, Banbridge, Cookstown, Craigavon, Dungannon, Fermanagh, Newry and Mourne, and Omagh.
The contract was worth around £500m over the 25-year life of the project.
But after Quinn Group proposed to bring other companies in to assist with their contract, the tender process came under a legal challenge from a company associated with a rival bidder and SWaMP has now announced it will be withdrawing from the whole plan.
There were claims yesterday the process has cost the taxpayer £3m.
“As a publicly-funded organisation SWaMP2008 has reluctantly concluded that its interests, and those of its stakeholders, are not best served by engaging in an expensive, lengthy and ultimately uncertain legal process. Consequently the procurement process is to be terminated,” a SWaMP spokesman said.
SWaMP chairman Connaire McGreevy (below) said the councils are now looking at other solutions, which may include a number of short-term measures.
However, the councils will no longer face the same urgency as might have been expected a few years ago, when new EU landfill diversion targets loomed and people were still consigning most of their waste to black bins.
Councillor McGreevy said: “The waste itself has reduced, recycling has increased and our education programmes have helped, so we’re not at crunch time.
“It will be a couple of years before we have to start diverting some waste.”
Instead of launching a major infrastructure project, the councils may now be able to consider smaller projects run by private companies or may look to one of the big projects being run by the north west group of councils or Arc21 in the east to take up the slack, he said.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood yesterday said the withdrawal by SWaMP demonstrates the risks inherent in such projects and the need to deploy best practice and best oversight in relation to their procurement.
Ulster Unionist MLA for Fermanagh & South Tyrone Tom Elliott described the process as an expensive failure: “I and others have maintained that the entire process was time-consuming, inefficient and doomed to failure.”