WASTE GIANT FAILS TO OVERTURN PUBLIC RIGHT TO KNOW
SECOND VICTORY FOR LOCAL RESIDENT IN LANDMARK SECRECY COURT BATTLE WITH WASTE GIANT
The multinational waste company Veolia Environmental Services today lost its Appeal against a High Court ruling which ordered it to release details of its £850 million waste management contract with its waste partner Nottinghamshire County Council to local residents .
This is the latest in a long line of cases in which information Veolia has tried to withhold has been forcibly made public. The judgement, confirmed by the Court of Appeal, set an important precedent for local authorities with immediate impacts for other councils around the country.
Veolia initiated the case, asking the High Court to judicially review Nottinghamshire County Council’s decision to release details of its multi-million pound waste management contract following a request by local resident and waste campaigner Shlomo Dowen, of People Against Incineration (PAIN), under local authority audit laws. The High Court ordered Veolia to release the information, and the Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court’s broad interpretation of the right of access to information under the audit laws. The Court of Appeal added a qualification that where the information is commercially confidential the authority must still release it where it is in the public interest to do so.
Mr Dowen was represented by lawyers from Friends of the Earth’s Rights and Justice Centre and Timothy Pitt-Payne QC at the Appeal, which was heard in July.
Information released following the High Court judgement showed how much money Veolia has been charging the local council for each method of waste treatment, such as landfill, incineration, recycling and composting, and helped show whether or not the local authority is getting value for money. As a direct result of the release of the information, the district auditors carried out several investigations, and will release their report following the judgement today.
The High Court case spawned a facebook page, and resulted in similar requests for waste contract details from Local Authorities in: Shropshire; Nottinghamshire; Leicestershire; Newcastle; Dudley; Hull; East Yorkshire; Derby; Bristol; Gloucestershire; and Warwickshire.
The case joins a series of blows for incineration in the UK.
Shlomo Dowen said:
“Truth is the best friend of every anti-incineration campaigner. Information that has been released to campaigners provides a valuable, powerful and effective resource. We have used this information to help District Auditors' investigations, for planning objections, and in public inquiries with great success. Such information is an antidote to the industry's propaganda. This decision will be celebrated, again, by campaigners throughout the UK. And of course, the implications for accountability go well beyond waste campaigning."
Friends of the Earth Lawyer acting for Mr Dowen, Laura Gyte, said:
“The Court of Appeal have confirmed the victory in this case for freedom of information and the residents of Nottinghamshire.
“Veolia was forced to come clean about its waste disposal contract and allow council tax payers to see how vast sums of their money is being spent, and how their rubbish is being disposed of.
“We are disappointed that the Court of Appeal implied a qualification on commercial confidentiality – in our view this is a matter for Parliament to decide upon – but it is important that even where commercial confidentiality is claimed, the audit laws mean that public authorities must still disclose the information where it is in the public interest to do so.”
For the past six years Veolia has been embroiled in a controversial attempt to build a waste incinerator in Sherwood Forest. A public inquiry was held in Rainworth near Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. The public inquiry, which opened on 6 October 2009 and came to an end on 26 October 2010, involved Veolia, Nottinghamshire County Council, Natural England, Newark & Sherwood District Council, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, and the local anti-incineration campaign group PAIN. A decision on Veolia's proposed Sherwood Forest incinerator is expected in 2011.