A legal battle over claims the wrong kind of waste is being fed into a multi-million pound recycling centre looks likely to cost taxpayers £13 million for a trial alone, a court has heard in London.

Of that figure, £5 million is being spent on the legal wranglings associated with disclosure of key documents ahead of a trial next year over the claims the Tovi waste treatment plant in Basildon – run by Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB) – is not operating properly.

Essex County Council has brought the action against UBB over contractual issues surrounding the performance of the waste plant.

The Technology and Construction Court heard that the overall cost of legal proceedings relating to the disclosure hearing were estimated at £9m – £5m of which is ECC’s portion with it costing UBB £4million.

The total estimated cost of the trial, scheduled for April 29, is estimated at around £24 million – with £13million of that coming from the public purse to fund the authority’s legal team.

As part of the £800million, 28-year PFI contract, the facility was supposed to treat up to 420,000 tonnes of residual waste, trade waste, bulky waste, street sweepings and waste from household waste recycling centres, along with a smaller proportion of local trade waste from Essex and Southend.

Currently of collected household black bin waste, 268,578 tonnes or 78 per cent was sent to the Basildon plant.

But UBB argues the wrong type of waste is being sent to the plant – still in the testing phase three years after it was meant to start full operations.

ECC argues that since early 2016 UBB has not carried out contractually and compliant commission composition tests and the waste has been in band A.

The court heard that UBB denies that and asserts since late 2015 it has been in band B.

The court also heard from ECC’s team that instead of waste with a density of 0.55 tonnes a cubic metre, the plant is only being supplied with waste with a density of about half that – meaning specifically the plant’s bio halls is significantly undersized.

The counsel for the county council added: “At its most fundamental, can this facility do what is required by the contract?

“The contract includes acceptance tests and a date by which those acceptance tests have to be passed which is called the acceptance long stop date.

“If the acceptance tests were not passed by the acceptance long stop date the council would be entitled to terminate the contact, which would be an extremely serious step for the PFI contract.

“The position is that no acceptance test certificate has been issued and the acceptance long stop date has passed therefore the main issue is whether the council is entitled to terminate the contract.

“UBB’s response to that in a nutshell is that the waste being provided to the facility is not as it should have been. Its the wrong kind of waste.”

An Essex County Council spokesman said: “Essex County Council is pleased with the outcome of this week’s hearing and the judge’s decision, and has been successful in recovering the majority of the costs of this hearing from the defendant.

“Similarly there will be an opportunity to seek redress for other legal costs through court determination should ECC be successful at the hearing next spring.

“Essex County Council intends to publish the total sum incurred on legal advice on conclusion of the contractual dispute.

"Due to ongoing legal proceedings ahead of next year’s hearing, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”