CONTROVERSIAL plans for a giant waste burner at Javelin Park near Haresfield are ‘in the balance’, according to Sue Oppenheimer, the chairman of anti-incinerator group GlosVAIN.
Following 23-days of painstaking argument and counter argument, the tense public inquiry into the £500 million project has finally come to a close and Ms Oppenheimer, the head of the grassroots opposition movement, believes the outcome ‘could go either way’.
Speaking on Thursday, the day after the protracted and costly planning inquiry finished, Ms Oppenheimer rated the group’s chances of success at ‘50/50’ despite the ‘David and Goliath-like’ nature of the contest and thanked all of GlosVAIN’s backers for their ‘terrific support’.
The inquiry, which often seemed to centre around obscure pieces of planning legislation, saw all sides call expert witnesses in a bid to reinforce their respective cases.
It came about after Urbaser Balfour Beatty, the multinational waste consortium behind the scheme, appealed a decision last March by Gloucestershire County Council’s planning committee to unanimously refuse its application.
Held at the Hallmark Hotel in Matson and presided over by a Government-appointed inspector, the inquiry saw a top barrister acting on behalf of UBB pitted against legal teams brought in by Shire Hall and Stroud District Council.
Campaigners from GlosVAIN also hired a planning consultant, funded via donations to the group, to put forward their arguments.
Last week, closing statements were made by all the different parties involved in the appeal, which is estimated to have cost GCC the best part of a million pounds after it signed a contract with UBB last year that committed the authority to paying the company’s legal costs in the event of an appeal.
On the penultimate day of the inquiry, GlosVAIN’s representative Alan Watson said the proposed incinerator was far too large, would not deliver the benefits claimed and “would be a long-term legacy to the profligate way in which we have wasted resources we should be sharing with future generations.”
In his closing remarks, he added: “GlosVAIN feels more strongly than ever that if this incinerator was to be approved in spite of the scale and detail of the objection more fundamental questions than just those of the planning regime would be raised.
“Overriding such strongly held and widespread objections would challenge both the meaning of localism, local democracy and ultimately the definition of sustainable development.”
Zack Simons QC, for Stroud District Council, said the proposal was ‘fundamentally out of keeping with its location’ and insisted ‘genuine and proven alternative solutions’ existed, while GCC’s QC Richard Elvin said the harm to the landscape was not outweighed by the public benefits of the scheme.
But in his closing statement Richard Phillips QC, tasked with fighting UBB’s corner, said: “However one approaches it, there is we submit a demonstrable and overriding need and policy support in Gloucestershire for the sustainable waste management facility represented by the appeal proposal.”
Brian Cook, the inspector overseeing proceedings will now write up his report and submit it, along with a recommendation about whether or not the proposal should be approved, to Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities, who will have the final say.
The inspector’s report is due to land on Mr Pickles’ desk by the end of May and the Conservative MP could announce his decision in the autumn.
Casting an eye back over the inquiry proceedings, GlosVAIN’s Sue Oppenheimer, said: “I think we have come out of it with a 50/50 chance. It is anybody’s guess now how it’s going to turn out. I don’t think even the inspector has a clear view yet.
“I think we did the best we could do. The support we had from our supporters was terrific and we made a very strong case but in the end it all comes down to planning law and not common sense sadly.
“I think it is in the balance. We will just have to wait nine months or so to find out. In the mean time we have to work on a plan B so there is a really good alternative if we do win.”