Last-ditch attempt to stop waste plant in Sinfin takes opponents back to court
Opponents of a waste plant in Sinfin took on the Government in Manchester yesterday, as Paul Whyatt reports.
CAMPAIGNER Dorothy Skrytek was backed by 35 supporters in a Manchester court as she took on a Government minister in her last-gasp bid to stop a waste plant having the go-ahead.
Miss Skrytek was challenging a decision by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles in a battle to stop the plant being built in Sinfin Lane, Sinfin.
The 51-year-old, of Derby and South Derbyshire Friends of the Earth, was supported at the Manchester court by 25 members of protest group Sinfin and Spondon Against Incineration (SSAIN).
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A further 10 people from Manchester also watched from the back of court 46 at Manchester Civil Justice Centre to support Miss Skrytek, after learning about her fight.
The campaigners claim that emissions from the waste plant would cause health problems for people living nearby.
Mr Pickles was named because the latest decision to give the plant the green light was made by a planning inspector on his behalf.
Miss Skrytek was challenging the minister, the plant's would-be developer, Resource Recovery Solutions, and the city council which – along with Derbyshire County Council – has signed an agreement with RRS to deal with the county's household rubbish.
The plant is intended to deal with 200,000 tonnes of household waste a year.
RRS's plans were originally rejected by the city council's planning committee.
Last September, a planning inspector gave the plant the go-ahead and it was this decision which Miss Skrytek challenged yesterday.
At the heart of the argument yesterday was whether waste at the plant would undergo a "recovery process" or "disposal process".
In the context of the proposed waste plant, recovery means any operation whereby the waste is serving a useful purpose – such as to generate electricity through a gasification process.
Disposal refers to waste that is dealt with by non-beneficial means, such as landfill.
Recovery methods are considered more desirable and, as such, are listed higher on the waste hierarchy – a tool planning inspectors can use to help them reach a decision as to whether an application should go ahead.
In his findings, the inspector classed the plant as a "recovery process", arguing that, in the future, the plant "may well" export gas that could be burned to generate electricity.
But first, contracts would have to be signed with customers – something that cannot be done until a date for the plant to start operating had been set.
Miss Skrytek argued the inspector's thinking was "unlawfully hypothetical".
Her written submission to the judge said: "In any event – the possibility of a disposal process becoming a recovery process is irrelevant to the classification, or to its place on the waste hierarchy."
Miss Skrytek's submission went on to say the inspector's reasons for classifying the RRS process as recovery, rather than disposal, were "inadequate".
Zack Simons, Miss Skrytek's barrister, told the court that the inspector had been "inconsistent".
He said the inspector had failed to "engage" with the legal definition of what constitutes a recovery process – and that this was "an error of law".
As a result, Mr Simons said the inspector placed RRS higher up the waste hierarchy than it ought to have been. "It was an approach that was not lawfully open to him."
"It may become a recovery process if and when customers are signed up and heat starts to be exported to those customers (with the heat burnt to generate electricity). But the inspector makes no finding as to when that will happen. He says it may happen. Until that point, this process is a disposal process.
"He said there was potential, not heat will be exported. The hypothetical possibility of it becoming a recovery process in the future is not relevant."
Mr Simons concluded by arguing the inspector also "failed to give adequate reasons" as to how he arrived at his decision to grant planning permission.
Jonathan Muffatt, representing Mr Pickles, insisted the inspector did not misunderstand the law and that he applied it "correctly".
"This is not the inspector going off on a frolic on his own," he told the judge.
Mr Muffatt argued too much attention was being paid to the waste hierarchy, arguing it "lays down a general order" but that it is "not inherently desirable".
He said: "The client's case is that the law required the inspector to ignore how this plant would operate once it was up and running.
"But he was entitled to consider what was going to happen in the future."