PLANS to build a massive recycling centre to take Oxfordshire's kitchen waste have been unveiled.

The recycling company Agrivert is proposing to build a giant composter on land between Yarnton and Cassington.

The centre, which would recycle about 40,000 tonnes of kitchen and green waste a year, would be the biggest of its type in Britain.

It would cost more than £5m to build on a two-hectare site near the A40, within easy reach of homes in Oxford, Witney and Bicester. Kitchen and green waste would be composted in 21 giant tunnels, using an in-vessel composting system first developed in Germany.

Agrivert, the Chipping Norton firm behind the plan, built and operates a giant in-vessel plant at Edmonton in London, which recycles 30,000 tonnes of food and green waste a year.

The company set out its plans to build a plant at Worton Farm to local councillors on Tuesday night. An outline planning application will be submitted to Oxfordshire County Council later this month.

At this week's meeting, the company addressed concerns about smells from the plant, pointing to the fact that more than 30,000 people live within a mile of its London plant.

The Worton Farms site, about four miles north west of Oxford, is already occupied by a green composting facility, which was formerly used by Oxfordshire County Council to compost garden waste.

All Oxfordshire councils now see a food treatment centre as a crucial part of a county-wide strategy to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and avoid hefty fines. About 28 per cent of household waste is thought to involve food.

Oxfordshire County Council says it is committed to using an in-vessel composting plant and will shortly be inviting companies to submit tenders.

But Agrivert has already invested heavily in designing a plan at Cassington and is ready to go ahead with an outline application.

Harry Waters, an Agrivert director, said the company would be consulting widely about its proposals, with parish councillors invited to see how its London plant operates.

He said: "This is an excellent site in the centre of Oxfordshire and close to a good road network. From an environmental point of view, it would be pointless if large amounts of diesel had to be used to bring waste to the site.

"The facility would be similar in size to our Edmonton operation to meet Oxfordshire's current waste expectations. It will be a two-phase building programme, which would allow us to meet additional demand."

He said the company could build and operate the centre, with the county council given the option of paying "a gate fee" for every tonne of waste.

Michael Gibbard, district councillor and chairman of Yarnton Parish Council, said: "It sounded environmentally sensitive. It was a good presentation. One of the main concerns was about odour, but we were assured many measures could be put in place to keep it to a minimum."

He said the site already had a good link road with the A40.

Peter Luke, clerk to Yarnton Parish Council, said local people would be worried if the site ended up taking food waste from areas beyond Oxfordshire.

Agrivert will also have to address questions about the level of bio-aerosols produced in the composting process. A number of science papers have linked these airborne particles with respiratory illnesses.

In-vessel composting essentially involves putting a mixture of food and green waste in closed tunnels and accelerating the composting process by pumping in air. Chris Cousins, of Oxfordshire County Council, said the council was committed to an in-vessel facility. But he warned that it would not alone be sufficient to meet the county's tough landfill diversion targets.

He said: "We will need a further treatment capacity."

County Hall said it was still not prepared to rule out or rule in the creation of an incinerator to burn waste for energy.

Read Reg Little's feature on dealing with a mountain of waste by clicking here.