COUNCIL officers have been accused of backing themselves into a corner over a controversial multi-million pound incinerator in North Yorkshire after it emerged that taxpayers could now be forced to foot part of the bill if the plans are rejected.
The Yorkshire Post has learned that as part of the 1bn contract agreed between North Yorkshire County Council and international firm AmeyCespa to build the incinerator at Allerton Park, between York and Harrogate, taxpayers could be liable to pay costs to the company if planning permission is refused.
The county council has refused to disclose the amount.
The news has enraged campaigners against the controversial waste-management contract, which was awarded by county councillors last month. They have argued there should be a far greater emphasis placed on boosting recycling rates.
A planning application is now expected to be submitted in the spring.
North Yorkshire County Councillor John Savage, said: "This is something that the majority of the public didn't want and now we expect them to accept that if it doesn't go ahead they will have to fork out to pay for the costs.
"At the moment, when the council's budget has been slashed by over 35m already this year it just beggars belief and is a very bitter pill to swallow.
"For those opposed to this incinerator, it could now be a disaster either way."
Anthony Long, chairman of Marton Cum Grafton Parish Council and a campaigner against the plans, said: "We are all very frustrated at the news.
"It seems that the county council has become liable for all sorts of compensation costs.
"They have gone hell-bent on getting this scheme pushed through and have completely backed themselves into a corner.
"This is a pretty poor position to be in and there are all kinds of concerns about how the costs will escalate."
North Yorkshire County Council is signed up to a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract with AmeyCespa.
It is believed if permission is turned down because AmeyCespa has not put forward a high- quality application then no compensation will be payable. But if the application is sound and gets refused, the council may be liable for compensation.
David Bowe, corporate director for business and environmental services, said: "The contract expressly recognises the independence of North Yorkshire County Council as the waste planning authority (WDA) and if, on that basis, the planning authority refuses permission, AmeyCespa has no right to compensation.
"However, as a WDA, North Yorkshire County Council has to closely follow the model form of contract issued by DEFRA's Waste Infrastructure Delivery Programme. Under that form of contract, the contractor is under a duty to use "all reasonable endeavours" to obtain planning permission.
"If, despite having used all reasonable endeavours, the contractor is unsuccessful and planning permission is not awarded, the contractor is entitled to recover abortive costs.
"We have negotiated a position that is significantly better than the standard contract – but at present the council remains under a statutory duty of confidentiality that prevents it from revealing the precise level of cost recovery that has been negotiated."
The council says a planning application is expected to be submitted in the spring, and it is due to be a further nine months before it is heard.