AS it stands, Gloucestershire County Council's planning committee is set to decide next month whether or not to award planning permission to Urbaser Balfour Beatty for the mass burn facility, which will cost county taxpayers half a billion pounds over 25 years and see 190,000 tonnes of rubbish incinerated annually.

The SNJ believes a number of compelling arguments are being made against the plant and we are concerned that these may be disregarded by councillors sitting on the planning committee given the political and financial pressures which they have become subject to.

As the SNJ revealed last September, the contract for the plant has been drawn up in such a way that if councillors were to refuse permission for the facility, GCC would be liable to pay multinational waste firm Urbaser up to £15 million in compensation, meaning the authority has a direct financial interest in approving the scheme.

This places undue pressure on councillors who will also be conscious of the political fallout of any decision they take, given the large and growing public interest in the issue.

Any decision on a planning application of this kind and magnitude should not be influenced by perverse financial incentives or political considerations, but should instead be based on a fair and reasoned evaluation of the facts.

Mr Pickles has the power to take the planning application out of GCC's hands and pass it over to an independent inspector, who will not be exposed to the political and financial pressures faced by members of the authority's planning committee.

We are requesting he does this because an inspector would not only be in a position to make an objective assessment of the application, he would also have the expertise to reach a conclusion the public could have complete confidence in.

The SNJ's stance on this issue does not arise from political loyalties - we believe the decision must be put above party politics - it simply stems from a desire to ensure that the best interests of the people of Stroud and Gloucestershire are served.

Public trust in the county council's ability to handle the application was severely diminished when we revealed that the case officer in charge of the application was replaced after voicing his intention to recommend it for refusal or deferral.

To allay the now widespread concerns and restore the public's faith in the planning process, GCC could itself seize the initiative and refer the application to Mr Pickles.

Any such move would be applauded by this paper because it would show that the authority was serious about doing what is right for this county.

It would also reduce the likelihood of an expensive legal battle, which would surely ensue should GCC's members grant permission.

Only last week it was revealed that a Judicial Review over planned library changes cost the authority almost £100,000.

If Mr Pickles agrees to a call-in, an inspector would lead a full public inquiry giving both sides the opportunity to put their cases.

The inspector, after listening to all the arguments and examining all of the evidence, would in turn make a recommendation to Mr Pickles, who would then have the final say on the matter.

The SNJ believes this would be the fairest and most democratic way of deciding whether or not an incinerator should be built at Javelin Park.