CONTROVERSIAL plans for a £1.4 billion waste incinerator between York and Harrogate have been given the go-ahead.

North Yorkshire County Council's planning committee has approved proposals by AmeyCespa Ltd for the Allerton Waste Recovery Park, which will be built on a quarry site next to the A1(M), on a 9-2 vote.

The company will operate the plant for North Yorkshire County Council and City of York Council through a 25-year contract, with the authorities saying it is vital to their future waste management strategy and will mean they avoid paying huge landfill tax bills.

About 400 jobs are expected to be created during the plant's construction, with 70 jobs at the site - next to the historic Allerton Park and Gardens - once it becomes operational.

The plans drew fierce opposition from environmental campaigners and local residents, who said the incinerator will increase pollution and traffic, is too large and expensive, and its technology is outdated. They also said it would harm the appearance of the surrounding countryside and potential alternative waste schemes had not been given sufficient consideration.

AmeyCespa's proposals will still have to be studied by Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, who will decide whether they should be called in for a public enquiry. The decision is expected in mid-November.

Bill Jarvis, AmeyCespa's project director, told the planning committee meeting that the scheme would bring "indisputable benefits" for North Yorkshire and York and 'significant savings" for the councils. He said continuing to send waste to landfill sites was "neither economically nor environmentally sensible".

"Any major infrastructure will have an impact on the local environment, and we understand this, but have no doubt - this facility is needed," he said.

 "Allerton Waste Recovery Park has been designed to meet the needs of all residents, while being economic, future-proofed and able to deliver long-term benefits to the community."

Project manager Andrew Cousins said the Allerton development was "the final piece in the waste management infrastructure jigsaw" for North Yorkshire and York and would boost the local economy by £300 million during construction and once it becomes operational. He said: "It is the right answer and the most realistic answer for North Yorkshire and York, and just because you don't like the answer doesn't mean it's wrong."

However, Bob Schofield of the North Yorkshire Waste Action Group (NYWAG) told councillors: "If you approve this, a generation yet to be born will be saddled with an inflexible, expensive facility which is incapable of responding to developments in waste management.

 "It flies in the face of planning policy and is environmentally damaging. There are much better solutions available."

Anthony Long of Marton-cum-Grafton Parish Council said: "Future generations will be strapped to this facility and bound to needlessly burning their waste while the rest of the world moves on.

"Once built, this incinerator will have to be fed waste 24/7 for the next 25 years - you simply cannot get away with that. Is this really the limit of our ambition and our ability?"

And Peter Topham, who chairs Arkendale Parish Council and a group of parish councils which teamed up to oppose the incinerator, said it would "look like a nuclear power station in farmland next to a listed building" and would cause "irreparable harm" to the surrounding countryside.


Incinerator decision was hardest ever, says planning head

THE councillor who chaired the planning committee meeting which approved the Allerton Waste Recovery Park said it was the hardest decision he has ever been involved in.

Coun Peter Sowray, who represents Easingwold, was among the nine councillors on the 11-strong committee who voted in favour of the incinerator between York and Harrogate this evening, but admitted it would be an unpopular decision for many.

"I feel this scheme is the best option and we have done the right thing for North Yorkshire as a whole, because we have to divert waste away from landfill," he said following the meeting.

"We have not done the right thing for the people of Marton-cum-Grafton and other parishes near the site. They will be upset and I understand that. But the decision we made had to be for the good of the people of North Yorkshire and the city of York."

AmeyCespa's project director Bill Jarvis said he was "pleased" with the committee's ruling, adding: "The new facility is a common-sense solution for dealing with North Yorkshire and York's waste and will save local taxpayers millions of pounds.

"In addition, it will increase recycling, generate renewable electricity, create jobs and provide an economic boost for local suppliers. We will now ensure any remaining steps are completed, such as providing information to central Government if it decides to review the application's approval, and finalising our contract with North Yorkshire County Council."

Mr Jarvis said that, if the Government gave Allerton Waste Recovery Park the final green light, AmeyCespa plan to begin work on the site next year and the facility would start processing waste in 2015. Construction on the entire scheme is expected to take about 34 months, but the plant would be likely to partially open about 20 months after work starts.

"During this time, we remain committed to working with the local community, involving them in our proposals and answering any questions they may have," he said.

However, Bob Schofield of the North Yorkshire Waste Action Group said campaigners would continue to push for a public inquiry, saying: "This matter is not over and we are going to move everything we can to get the Government to call in this application."

Meanwhile, the York Residents Against Incineration group posted information on its website about how to call for a public inquiry, with a message saying North Yorkshire was "unreasonably wedded" to the incinerator plans and Government scrutiny was the only way "to get them properly reassessed".

Coun Chris Metcalfe, North Yorkshire County Council's executive member for waste disposal, said: "Today's decision means the county council can begin to finalise the long-term waste management contract with AmeyCespa while the Secretary of State is reviewing the application.

"It marks the start of us being able to move away from landfilling our waste to a sustainable long-term solution which generates green electricity. The contract with AmeyCespa will give us more than £240 million in savings on the costs of doing nothing different with our waste - welcome news in this time of severely-reduced council budgets."

And Coun David Levene, City of York Council's cabinet member for environmental services, said the decision was "a huge boost for our economy and our region" because of the number of residents the plant will serve, the jobs AmeyCespa said it will create and the firm's projection that it will bring £300 million into the region.

"The Allerton site will significantly reduce landfill by diverting 90 per cent of contract waste and 95 per cent of biodegradable waste, and recycle a minimum of five per cent contract waste over and above the recycling already done by York residents," he said.

"If we continued operating as we are now, the cost to both councils would have been approximately £1.7 billion over the next 25 years. Allerton Waste Recovery Park will allow both councils to avoid £300 million of this cost."