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Statement from High Court on incinerator ruling

Objectors opposed to plans for a waste incinerator in the picturesque Cornish countryside today triumphed in their High Court challenge to the Government's grant of planning permission for the scheme.

The Cornwall Waste Forum St Dennis Branch persuaded High Court judge Mr Justice Collins to quash the Government's decision to grant planning permission for the "energy from waste plant" on land at St Dennis, which they say threatens two nearby "Special Areas of Conservation" (SACs) designated by the EU. The judge ordered the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, to reconsider the decision.

However, this may not be the end of the battle. He did grant the Secretary of State permission to challenge his decision at the Court of Appeal.

The judge ruled that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, and his planning inspector had failed to meet a "legitimate expectation" on the part of the objectors that they would consider whether an "Appropriate Assessment" was necessary under the Habitats Regulations and EU Habitats Directive to consider the potential impacts of noise, dust and other emissions from the incinerator on the surrounding area.

He backed the group's claim that the inspector, whose decision was followed by the Secretary of State, was wrong to leave the question of an Appropriate Assessment to the Environment Agency, which had already announced its stance that the incinerator would have no significant environmental effects.

He found that the inspector failed to deal with the objectors' challenge to the EA's stance, which they claim is "legally flawed" and insufficient to meet the requirements of the Directive.

Quashing the planning permission in a lengthy judgment today, the judge said that the "sensible way forward" now might be for the Secretary of State to carry out an Appropriate Assessment "as speedily as possible".

He said that this might lead to him agreeing with the EA, and planning permission being properly granted. However, he said that if any significant effects on the environment are identified, that will in effect mean that the development cannot take place.

He said: "Clearly what was envisaged was that the inspector would consider and give his views on not only whether an Appropriate Assessment was needed but, if possible, what the Appropriate Assessment should decide.

"That the objectors were led to believe that the inspector would deal with the issue, there can be no doubt. That was on the basis that the Secretary of State was the Competent Authority and the appropriate authority to deal with the issue.

"The objectors were never disabused of that belief by anything said by the inspector in the course of the inquiry process.

"It seems to me that the real point is that the expectation was that the inspector would consider and reach a view on the need for an Appropriate Assessment."

He added that the inspector and the Secretary of State had made "no decision" on the challenge to the EA's conclusions put forward by the objectors.

He continued: "There was evidence put before the inspector that the EA had got it wrong. But he did not deal with or reach any decisions on the evidence which had been produced to challenge the EA's view.

"He was wrong not to have dealt with the evidence because the parties had been led to believe that he would and he had not at any stage disabused them of that expectation."

Speaking afterwards, Charmian Larke, a representative of the group, said: "We are very pleased and happy. We all feel exhausted but ready for the next phase of the battle, whatever it might be.

"Today we have made big progress towards more sustainable waste management in Cornwall."

The judge ordered the Secretary of State to pay the Forum's legal costs, to be assessed later.

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