A CONTROVERSIAL waste-burning incinerator is a step closer to reality after councillors agreed to shell out a £165million loan in a bid to get construction underway next year.
Proposals for the plant at Hartlebury, which will handle 200,000 tonnes of waste generated in Herefordshire and Worcestershire each year, have been hotly debated since 1998 with surrounding residents strongly opposed.
But with the county’s landfill sites set to fill up by 2024, members of Worcestershire County Council’s cabinet who discussed the plans last Thursday (December 12), said they needed to act now.
The deal will see Worcestershire taxpayers fork out a total of £125million to lend to the plant’s operators, Mercia Waste Management Limited, with Herefordshire households set to pay £40million.
A document which looks into waste management over the next three decades says dealing with all the rubbish in the two counties will cost £1.65billion by 2042, but if landfill is not reduced, the cost could be more than £2.1billion.
Council leader, Adrian Hardman, said it was time to stop kicking the can down the road.
“It is very tempting to take the short term view that we can save ourselves £37million which we can invest in other services, but it is exactly that, a short term view,” he said.
“By doing that we expose ourselves to an enormous risk which is half a billion pounds in the long term.
“Doing nothing is no longer an option.”
But the plans have caused huge controversy among people living next to the proposed site with opponents urging the council to look at alternatives.
Rob Wilden, from Herefordshire and Worcestershire Action Group, said: “So now the truth is out that £165million will be spent on the building of the incinerator and the lifetime cost of running it is a staggering £1.6billion.
“In two years time many of you will not be here – think about the legacy of debt you are leaving for those who follow you.
“How many times have I heard ‘this is what we inherited, it’s not our fault’.
“You are really saying to two generations of young people who are aware as they grow up about recycling and protecting the environment, don’t recycle we need to feed the mass-burning incinerator, it’s costing us a fortune.”
The incinerator will employ 45 people and create 250 jobs during the three year building process.
Councillor John Campion, cabinet member for commissioning and transformation, said he understood the objectors’ concerns but felt it was the right way forward.
“I wholly understand the fears and concerns of the residents of the surrounding area where this site is proposed to be located, I fully understand the fear of the unknown,” he added.
“But it has been shown these things can happen quietly and just get on with doing their job without disrupting the neighbourhood and I hope we will see that conclusion reached in relation to Hartlebury.”
The deal is now set to go to full council for a final vote and if it is signed off by the Government construction is expected to get underway in spring. It is hoped the plant will be operational by early 2017.