A CASH-strapped council that tried to fight the expansion of a controversial landfill site faces a six-figure legal bill after losing a long-running planning war.
The Seaton Meadows site, at Brenda Road, was finally given permission to expand by the Planning Inspectorate after a wrangle which goes back to 2010.
The local authority’s planning committee had rejected the plan after complaints from residents.
But after winning an appeal, the site’s operators ALAB will now see the local authority pick up the legal bill.
The costs have been kept under wraps by both ALAB and the council, though the Mail understands the final figure is in excess of £100,000.
It follows the £470,000 legal bill the local authority paid to parent company Able UK after a seperate planning row over the controversial ‘ghost ships’ back in 2010.
Management at ALAB were initially allowed to pile landfill up to a height of 18m.
But after a fire at the site in 2007, more waste was added as a way of extinguising the blaze which was deep-seated within the landfill.
Over time, the height of the waste reached 26m and a retrospective application for an extension to the height was submitted in August 2010.
Legal wranglings meant it was another two years before the application reached Hartlepool Council’s Planning Committee, and it was eventually refused in July 2012.
An appeal was immediately lodged, and the Planning Inspectorare has now given permission for a vertical expansion which means waste can now be piled up to 26m across the 24 hectare site.
Coun Paul Thompson, independent representative for the Seaton ward, described the decision as “a sad day for Seaton Carew”.
Coun Thompson said: “The delays in this case have quite frankly been disgraceful.
“For the appeal to allow expanision is a sad day for Seaton.
“This is a gateway into Seaton Carew. Loose rubbish flies about, it smells and it is an eyesore.
“The decision has been taken is contrary to local opinion as well, it is ludicrous.”
Elizabeth Ord from the Planning Inspectorate outlined the reasons behind the decision in a lengthy report which was finally made public earlier this week after the ruling was rubber-stamped last month.
The report said: “The application is in part retrospective and is intended, amongst other things, to regularise over-tipping.
“Some of the drawings and plans upon which the Council made its decision to refuse planning permission have been revised.
“I am satisfied that no issues of natural justice arise and I have determined this appeal on the basis of the submitted revisions.
“From my site visit observations I agree with the conclusions the landscape quality of the site and its surroundings, and its sensitivity to change are low.
“Against this background, the proposed height, mass and form could be readily absorbed into the landscape.
“Consequently, I conclude that the landscape character would not be materially harmed by the proposal.”
A council spokesman said: “We have been made aware of the Planning Inspectorate’s decision and this will be discussed at the council’s Planning Committee next Wednesday, November 26.”
Able UK calls for better relationship with council
THE operator of Seaton Meadows has welcomed the planning inspectorate’s ruling - and has now called for a better working relationship with Hartlepool Council.
Andrew Jacques, managing director of Able UK and site operators ALAB Environmental Services, was critical of the council’s planning committee for rejecting the appeal in the first instance.
Mr Jaques said: “In August 2012 we had an application for extending the height of the landfill site and revising its restoration plan turned down by members of the planning committee despite receiving a clear recommendation from officers that it should be approved.
“Now, following a hearing in October this year, the Planning Inspector has ruled that the application would not cause any significant harm and would constitute sustainable development.
“The application arose out of a specific safety need to raise the height of the site. It had the approval of the council’s officers and support from the other statutory consultees and the council’s own ecologist also raised no objections.
“Regrettably the decision by the members of the Planning Committee to refuse the application was an example of history repeating itself as in January 2010 the council was compelled to pay £470,000 towards Able costs following a previously flawed decision. “In this latest instance the inspector has ruled that again the council will have to meet part of our costs.
“Whilst we are pleased with the outcome of our appeal, it is a pity that it had to happen at all but what we now hope is that it will be possible for us to work with the authority and move forward in a way which can avoid any further instances of this kind.”