The high court has overturned planning permission for a Sita incinerator in Cornwall, capable of burning up to 240,000 tonnes of household waste a year.
The news follows years of wrangling between the waste management company, campaigners, Government and the courts.
Campaigners and local residents argued that the site in St Dennis, St Austell, is next to two special areas of conservation and claim the incinerator would pose a health risk.
They also claimed that the decision by the secretary of state Eric Pickles was influenced by a “flawed” impact assessment by the Environment Agency.
But Sita said that without the £117m plant, which would provide electricity for 22,000 homes and process the county’s domestic waste for the next 25 years, Cornwall would face an “enormous waste problem”.
Sita project director David Buckle said: “This judgment gives us cause for considerable concern and we will need to study the detail of this decision and consider any possible remedies.
“We have always believed that the CERC is the best technical, financial and environmental solution for managing Cornwall’s waste and it is important that the scheme is able to progress, as without it Cornwall is facing an enormous waste problem.”
The judge in the case has granted the Treasury Solicitor working on behalf of the secretary of state three weeks to appeal the decision. A Sita spokesperson said that failing this there “may be other ways forward” but these had yet to be discussed.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “The Secretary of State has been granted leave to appeal and he will be considering the judgement carefully.”
Cornwall Council said the decision was “extremely disappointing” and that delays to building the incinerator were costing it £1m a month in landfill tax and haulage costs.
In an official statement it said: “The Council will be pressing for an early resolution as further delays will not only extend uncertainty over this process but could prove financially disastrous for people in Cornwall.
“A delay of up to six months would cost the Council at least £6 million – the equivalent of providing 400,000 hours of care for vulnerable people living at home, funding all the Council’s community leisure facilities, keeping the streets of Cornwall clean for twelve months or repairing potholes and treating roads during the coming winter months. It would also be the equivalent of increasing council tax by 5%.”
The council said it would be meeting with Sita in the next few weeks to discuss ways that it may be able to reduce these costs until a final solution is found.