GLOUCESTERSHIRE County Council has reaffirmed its opposition to the proposed Javelin Park incinerator amid lingering doubts about the authority’s willingness to fight Urbaser Balfour Beatty’s appeal.
Although a motion reiterating GCC’s opposition to the highly controversial project was passed at a meeting of full council on Wednesday, it was not supported by a majority of the authority’s members after Conservative councillors opted to abstain from the vote.
Despite the Tory group’s reluctance to endorse the motion, its passage was nevertheless hailed as a victory by Labour Party members, who had wanted GCC to make its opposition to the £500 million scheme crystal clear.
Barry Kirby, the Labour councillor who tabled the motion, said GCC’s ongoing defence of its planning committee’s decision to refuse permission for the waste burner had become an ‘embarrassment’.
He criticised the argument currently being advanced by the council’s lawyers at the public inquiry that GCC is against UBB’s proposal but essentially open to seeing a slightly smaller incinerator built at the Javelin Park site near Haresfield.
Cllr Kirby said it was vital to make sure that the secretary of state Eric Pickles, who will have the final say on the application, ‘doesn’t get the wrong impression’ about GCC’s opposition to the project.
His motion noted “the strength of feeling within the community who are opposed to incineration” and its approval now means GGC will have to reiterate instructions to its legal representatives to robustly defend the decision of its planning committee.
The successful motion also endorsed the unanimous decision of GCC’s planning committee and instructed the council’s chief executive to write to the secretary of state as part of the inquiry process to strongly reiterate the views expressed by its members.
Liberal Democrat councillors had called for the motion to be amended so that it included a line critical of the previous Tory administration’s decision to enter into a contract which has resulted in GCC paying the legal costs of both sides engaged in the appeal.
However, the amendment was voted down by the Tories with support from Labour – prompting accusations from the former Lib Dem leader Jeremy Hilton of a ‘cosy deal’ between the two parties.
During the debate, Cllr Hilton also took a swipe at GCC’s Tory leader, saying whoever had nominated him for his recent MBE ‘obviously did not mention that he had squandered so much public money’.
His verbal attack was met with boos and jeers from Tory councillors sitting on the other side of the Shire Hall chamber and Cllr Hawthorne responded by reminding his opposite number that it was the Lib Dems and Labour who had identified Javelin Park as a suitable site for an incinerator back in 2004.
Cllr Hawthorne also said GCC had been putting up a ‘robust defence’ at the inquiry and that the council’s position was ‘very clear’.
Describing the motion as an ‘inappropriate intervention into the planning process’ which risked leading to a judicial review, he added that the Conservative group would be taking no further part in the debate and would be abstaining from the vote.
Stroud’s Green Party county councillor Sarah Lunnon also blasted the Labour motion, saying it was about ‘playing to the gallery’ and did not offer any meaningful help to those parties involved in the appeal proceedings, like GlosVAIN, which are opposing the incinerator.
Speaking afterwards, she said: “After 30 minutes of debate and amendment the motion was useless, that would be why the Tories allowed it to pass. Or maybe Labour and the Tories have come to some understanding at the county.”