County council accused of lack of knowledge on waste disposal

Essex County Council displayed a “lack of knowledge” after refusing to comment on plans for an incinerator that would burn thousands of tonnes of waste, according to one councillor.

Green Party councillor James Abbott was told at full council last week that the council would not answer on whether it should oppose an application for a waste licence for an incinerator in Rivenhall, given the amount of CO2 it will produce.

But Cllr Abbott said he was astounded at the “lack of knowledge” displayed, adding he could see can see no reason why his question could not be answered.

The council’s refusal to answer came after the chairman inaccurately said a planning application had not been determined – a 35-metre high stack was granted planning permission by the council in 2010.

Cllr Tony Ball, Cabinet Member for Economic Development, then said he could not answer due to it being a planning matter and it was inappropriate for him to express a view “as it was going through ECC development control committee”.

The only aspect not determined is the waste permit aspect. This is being determined by the Environment Agency.

Cllr Abbott said: “I was astounded by their lack of knowledge.

“There were no current applications pending that would have stopped this council answering my question.

“The applicant has planning permission and so the council has fulfilled its duty in that regard.

“I just thought it was extraordinary that they went around the room and they all got it wrong.

“Whenever I mention Rivenhall or waste at County Hall they get very defensive.

“My view has been all the way along that there are huge sums of public money going into these areas. The public deserve to know.”

An Essex County Council spokesperson said: “The Rivenhall site has been the subject of a number of planning applications and also consultations by the Environment Agency, and given the complexities of the site, it is possible that there could be further applications in the future.

“At the council meeting, Cllr Abbott asked for a response on whether ECC should oppose Rivenhall given the amount of CO2 it was due to produce.

“Given there is no outstanding planning application, the chairman referred to the recent consultation which the Environment Agency undertook, but this was referred to as a planning application in error.

“Given this response, the matter was then referred to Cllr Ball in his capacity as the cabinet member responsible for the planning function.

“Cllr Ball responded correctly that he could not comment specifically on individual planning matters as these are dealt with by the development and regulation committee.

“We understand that Cllr James Abbott has expressed concern that there is ignorance or deliberate deception among cabinet members over such an important issue. This is not the case.

“It is important to note that the county council as waste planning authority must ensure that it decides applications fairly,  and in line with the prevailing national and local planning policies and their own merits.

“While there are no current planning applications awaiting determination, there may be future applications. ECC needs to ensure that it can make a fair decision on any future application and minimise the risk of an expensive legal challenge to any future decision it may take.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter