CAMPAIGNERS and MPs have vowed to continue the fight against hugely contentious plans for a waste incinerator amid accusations that a decision to give the multi-million pound scheme the go-ahead was a done deal.
North Yorkshire County Council yesterday approved planning permission for the £250m waste management plant at Allerton Park between York and Harrogate following a marathon six-and-a-half hour debate.
The move signalled the biggest ever planning decision which the council has taken in its 38-year history and has been heralded as vital to dealing with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste each year from across England’s largest county.
But the ultimate decision as to whether the waste facility becomes a reality now rests with Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, who could call in the scheme for a public inquiry.
Campaigners and MPs opposed to the controversial scheme have pledged to petition Mr Pickles and maintained they are confident the case against the waste plant can be made to an independent planning inspector who would oversee a public inquiry.
Members of the North Yorkshire Waste Action Group (NYWAG) had already raised fears the council’s decision to award the 25-year contract worth £1bn to run the plant to a private firm, AmeyCespa, in December 2010 was a clear indication the planning application would be given the go-ahead. The decision to grant planning permission was carried by a vote of nine to two - which was the exact prediction by opponents before the meeting commenced.
The spokesman for NYWAG, Bob Schofield, said: “It was a done deal - it was have been extraordinary if the council’s planning committee had voted against a decision to grant a contract nearly two years ago. But we have a strong case to present to a planning inspector, and we do still believe we can win.
“If the inspector decides that the plant should go ahead, then we can have no complaint as it has been decided by an independent adjudicator. It would be an absolute travesty if it did not go before a public inquiry, as there would be a massive democratic deficit.
“We have always maintained that the council should not be deciding themselves on a planning decision the effects of which will be felt for a generation to come.”
But the chairman of the council’s planning and regulatory functions committee, Coun Peter Sowray, was adamant the decision had been reached independently and without any pressure on members.
He said: “I am confident the planning committee is free-standing and we are experienced enough to divorce ourselves from the actual council to make a decision. I have lived with this for a long time, as have many other people, and it has not been an easy decision.
“It is not a perfect solution, but then there never is one. But I do believe that we have made the right decision to provide a solution for waste management.”
Plans for the plant, which is a joint venture between the county council and York Council, have provoked an outcry among villagers living close to the proposed site on an existing quarry and landfill operation at Allerton Park.
But campaigners maintained they are not simply opposed to a major waste plant close to their homes amid claims the scheme is financially unviable.
Campaigners and politicians including Selby and Ainsty MP Nigel Adams and his Parliamentary colleague Andrew Jones, who represents the Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency, have stated the financial model is deeply flawed. They maintain that the £1bn contract is too rigid as new technologies could be developed to supersede the waste plant.
Mr Jones confirmed both he and Mr Adams have asked Mr Pickles to call in the decision as it is “technically complex and has wide-ranging implications for our region”.
He added: “I commend the efforts of everyone who fought for a different decision. This is not the end of the campaign.”
The county council’s executive member for waste disposal, Coun Chris Metcalfe, claimed planning approval marked the start of a “move away from landfilling waste to a sustainable long-term solution”.
And York Council’s cabinet member for environmental services, Coun David Levene, said the decision was a “huge boost for our economy and our region”. He stressed that keeping the status quo would have cost both authorities about £1.7bn over the next 25 years as they would be hammered by landfill taxes.
AmeyCespa’s project director, Bill Jarvis, said the decision provided a “common sense solution” for dealing with North Yorkshire’s waste. He confirmed construction work could begin next year before the plant becomes operational in 2015.