Inquiry urged into shock funding U-turn over incinerator schemes

YORK Council leader James Alexander has asked MPs to launch an inquiry into why millions of pounds of funding was withdrawn by the Government from two major waste incinerator schemes in Yorkshire.

Coun Alexander has written to Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh asking her to intervene in the row through her role as chairman of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs select committee.

The Government stunned York, North Yorkshire, Calderdale and Bradford Councils last month when they were told funds earmarked for their incinerator projects would not now be made available. Council tax payers have been warned they could end up footing the bill.

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York and North Yorkshire are developing an incinerator to be sited at Allerton Quarry near Knaresborough while Bradford and Calderdale are in advanced discussions over a proposed scheme in Bradford.

The councils involved have questioned why the projects, both partnerships with private sector companies, had been allowed to proceed to such an advanced stage before the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) withdrew its financial support, known as waste infrastructure credits.

Bradford Council estimated it had already spent around £5m developing its joint scheme with Calderdale Council while the costs amassed by York and North Yorkshire councils on the Allerton Park project were put at around £6.5m.

If the schemes do not go ahead, the four councils will have to re-think how they deal with thousands of tonnes of waste.

In his letter, Coun Alexander says: “To be told now, with no consultation or warning whatsoever, that Government has pulled the plug on this funding gives very little confidence in the decision making process.

“At best, withdrawal of WICs will increase the costs of the scheme and, at worst, make it unviable.

“The costs borne by authorities would then include the significant spend to date on the schemes, the contract liabilities already in place, the increased costs of landfill in the interim and the need to identify other potentially more expensive solutions.

“Additional costs will have real and severe impacts on other services. Given the reductions in expenditure already made necessary by reduced settlements, there is no capacity to absorb additional costs.

“I believe there are some significant questions to be answered about how a process of this importance can be undertaken in such an erratic way.”

Defra has told council leaders that the two Yorkshire schemes and a third on Merseyside are no longer needed for the UK to meet European Union targets on reducing the amount of rubbish sent to landfill sites.

However, a spokeswoman did add: “This does not necessarily mean the three projects will stop. That will be a decision for the local authorities concerned.”

While the Government’s decision has angered councillors it has been welcomed by campaigners who have vociferously opposed the Allerton Quarry plan.

A petition boasting thousands of signatures was produced in opposition to the scheme while the Department of Communities and Local Government at the time confirmed it had received “well in excess” of 500 letters and emails calling for a public inquiry to be held. But following deliberations it decided an inquiry would not be needed. Last year York and North Yorkshire councils secured planning permission for the controversial scheme with everyone involved expecting it to go ahead as planned.

However, the withdrawal of funding means that the future of both schemes is now in doubt raising questions over what the councils will do with thousands of tonnes of waste.

Leaders of the councils involved are hoping to meet Ministers and Government officials in the coming weeks to make the case for a re-think.

The Yorkshire Post made efforts to contact Ms McIntosh to discuss the letter but she was unavailable for comment.