A LEGAL challenge launched by campaigners fighting plans for a 100,000-tonne-per-year waste incinerator in Ardley was branded “a spoiling tactic” by Oxon County Council last week.
In an unusual step, the council released a candid statement saying it believed the challenge by Ardley Against Incineration (AAI) was, “...wholly without merit and a spoiling tactic which will ultimately waste several million pounds of public money.”
The escalation in the war of words between the council and campaigners is the latest phase in a long and bitter battle which exposed divisions in the council’s own waste development control committee. In October 2009, committee members voted eight to five to refuse a planning application for the incinerator, although a second incinerator application was eventually approved in July this year.
The matter then went to a public inquiry, which ruled in favour of the application in February. But AAI launched a legal challenge in March, meaning campaigners will now face Secretary of State Eric Pickles in the High Court.
The county council says it has secured an agreement for a “speedy hearing” over the challenge.
Council leader Keith Mitchell said: “It is in the strong public interest that this unfounded challenge is determined urgently. This is a much-needed facility that will deliver environmental and financial benefits for Oxfordshire and any delay will increase the cost to the public purse.
“Quite simply it is unacceptable for Ardley Against Incineration to hold thousands of Oxfordshire taxpayers to ransom in this way.
He added: “To be faced with potentially significant cost increases due to delay from a self-serving challenge is a serious cause of concern and a waste of public money.”
The county council says the incinerator is urgently needed to avoid escalating EU landfill taxes. But campaigners say it is an old-fashioned and short-sighted solution that will harm the environment and damage their quality of life.
The council signed a 25-year contract with incinerator operator Viridor in July last year, before planning permission had been granted.
Jon O’Neill, chairman of Ardley Against Incineration, poured scorn on the suggestion Oxon County Council (OCC) had any influence over when the hearing was held.
“The court makes the decision by looking at its diary and finding where the gaps are,” he said.
He said the council leadership’s public criticism of protestors indicated they realised the Secretary of State’s decision to grant planning permission for the incinerator could be overturned.
This could prove very expensive for the county, as a 25-year contract has already been signed with Viridor.
“They’re throwing their toys out of the pram,” said Mr O’Neill.
“This has been going on for three years now and at no point has OCC bothered to come up with a back-up plan. If we win OCC will be in line to pay out millions of pounds. If they’d done their homework they wouldn’t now be in this position.”