A MAJOR question mark was last night hanging over controversial plans for a waste incinerator plant in North Yorkshire after council chiefs dropped a legal challenge against the Government’s withdrawal of funding for the scheme.
North Yorkshire County Council and York Council have been seeking a judicial review of last February’s decision by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to axe £65m worth of private finance initiative (PFI) credit support for the Allerton Park project.
Yesterday, however, the councils announced they had withdrawn their review application, which was due to be heard at the end of this month.
They said they had received legal advice that it would not be in the public interest to go ahead as, even if the challenge succeeded, Defra was unlikely to reinstate the PFI funding.
The councils will share the cost of the aborted judicial review process, which will run into tens of thousands of pounds.
Plans for the £250m Allerton Waste Recovery Park near Knaresborough have been the subject of fierce opposition from campaigners, who say the 25-year management contract awarded to private company AmeyCespa is too rigid as new technology could be developed that would supersede the site’s incinerator.
North Yorkshire County Council insisted the scheme was not dead in the water – but also admitted a decision now had to be taken on whether it still offered value for money without the £65m of Government backing.
David Bowe, the corporate director for business and environmental services at the authority, said: “The advice is that the council’s case is strong and we continue to believe that Defra made an unlawful decision, but it is clear from this and other recent decisions that Defra does not wish to continue to support projects of this type anymore.
“Even if we win, we cannot guarantee that we would get the credits back. We worked closely with Defra officials for many years on this project and feel very disappointed by the way they have conducted themselves but we now have to accept that the argument is not worth pursuing. The loss of credits is a blow but it doesn’t mean the project is over.
“We are continuing to work with our contractor, AmeyCespa, to mitigate the loss of [the credits] and complete the last details of the contract. The final decision on whether the project remains affordable and value for money will be made later in 2014 when this work is completed.”
Yesterday’s announcement was welcomed by Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones, who has been a vocal critic of the scheme.
He said: “It is difficult to see a way forward for this proposal retaining the incinerator element which already has in its wake a trail of problems and can only look forward to an uncertain future financially.”
Mr Jones added: “There is still a chance to work with local people and the contractors to implement a cost-effective, environmentally friendly and modern alternative to incineration.
“It is time to get everyone around the table again – councils, local people, MPs and the waste contractor – and agree a way to move on from this proposal.”
It was estimated last year that around £6.5m had already been spent by North Yorkshire and York councils on developing the Allerton Park scheme.