The Conservative leader of Hertfordshire County Council has expressed “disappointment” at the continuing lack of a government decision on a proposed ‘energy recovery facility’ in Hoddesdon.

The proposed Rye House facility is designed to process up to 320,000 tonnes of residual waste a year from across the county – producing heat and electricity and preventing the use of landfill.

But campaigners against the controversial facility fear it will increase pollution and degrade the Hoddesdon area.

They have said it is too big and is in the wrong place – being too close to residential areas and schools, too far from main roads and being next to the green belt and the Lea Valley Park.

In February last year (2018) the controversial application – submitted by waste contractors Veolia – was ‘called-in’ by the Secretary of State, who determined the application should be considered by a public inquiry.

That inquiry was held in August. And although the Planning Inspector’s report was handed to the Secretary of State in February, the decision has not yet been made.

On Monday (June 3) the council’s cabinet met to consider amendments to Veolia’s contract with the county council – that have become necessary as a direct result of the delay.

At that meeting, county council leader Cllr David Williams highlighted the ongoing delay.

Cllr Williams said the council had initially been told the decision would be available on or before May 7 – within five days of the local elections – by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. 

He suggested it was “not unreasonable” that they had had to wait longer, as a result of the European elections on May 23, which “had not been anticipated”.

But now – more than a week after the European election results – Cllr Williams said it was “a matter of disappointment” not to have heard anything.

At Monday’s cabinet meeting, councillors considered a number of changes to the contract it has with Veolia, including the ‘planning permission longstop date’.

The ‘longstop date’ says either the county council or Veolia can pull out on June 30 this year, should ‘satisfactory planning permission’ not be in place.

And at the meeting the cabinet agreed to extend that date to 31 December 2020 – allowing time for the decision to be published and for any challenges to be dealt with .

Councillors were told that should the contract lapse as a result of lack of planning permission, the county council would have to pay Veolia £1.37 million.

And they were told that if they pulled out of the contract and Veolia were then granted planning permission, the facility could still be built but the council may lose access to it.

Councillors were told that once up-an-running the facility would save the council up to £103.6million, over a 30-year operational period – though this could fall to an estimated £71.6million, should the Euro exchange rate fall to £1:Euro1.

And they were also told of the difficulties the county council faced – and would face – in seeking alternative arrangements to dispose of non-recyclable waste in the coming years without it.

In 2018/19 the county council collected around 515,000 tonnes of waste – of which around 248,000 was ‘residual’ and needed to be disposed of.

Around 225,000 tonnes of that residual waste was sent to energy recovery facilities or landfill in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire or north London – leaving the county council with a shortfall of 25,000 tonnes

Aside from the ‘longstop date’, variations in the contract agreed by cabinet also reduce the tonnage the county council must guarantee, include a no fault termination right for the council  and maintain the cap on planning failure compensation.

The county council initially entered into the contract with Veolia in July 2011, after which the company sought planning permission for an energy recovery facility the New Barnfield site, near Hatfield.

That application was refused by the Secretary of State in July 2015, following a public inquiry.

And since then Veolia have been looking at proposals for the energy recovery facility at Rye House, in Hoddesdon.

According to the report to the cabinet – subject to planning decisions – construction work could start at Rye House in January 2020. And the site could be operational in summer 2023.

Executive member for public health and prevention Tim Hutchings – who is also the local member for Hoddesdon North – was not present at the cabinet meeting, which was said to have been called at “relatively short notice”.

Executive member for highways Cllr Phil Bibby and executive member for resources and performance Cllr Ralph Sangster were also absent. All three were represented by the deputy executive members.

Earlier on Monday the changes to the contract were backed unanimously by a meeting of the county council’s community safety and waste management cabinet panel.