CONTROVERSIAL plans for a £650m Incinerator at Ardley have received a boost after the proposed facility was granted an environmental permit.

The Environment Agency (EA) determined that the waste burner – set to deal with 300,000 tonnes of rubbish each year – will not pose a “significant risk” to public health.

But a campaign group leader said questions remained about health risks – and final permission must be given by a public inquiry.

Matt Carter, area manager at the EA, said it spent 18 months investigating the scheme.

He said: “We have carried out a thorough assessment of this application and taken into account all the comments received during extensive consultation.

“In granting this permit we are satisfied that the plant can be built and operated in a manner that does not pose a significant risk to the environment or public health.

“We will make sure any plant that is built meets high environmental standards and will be operated safely. We have involved local people and the wider public throughout the permitting process and we will continue to do this throughout our future regulation of the plant if and when it is built.”

The decision has been welcomed by Viridor, the firm behind the plan.

Project manager Robert Ryan said: “We are proposing a facility which will use state-of-the-art technology, capable of delivering an effective alternative to landfill that meets the strictest environmental standards.

“The EA’s decision demonstrates that our proposals are sound, safe and robust.

“We now look forward to receiving planning permission and concluding the procurement process with Oxfordshire County Council so we can start the delivery of a residual treatment solution for the county that will ensure higher resource efficiency for years to come.”

The decision was criticised by campaign group Ardley Against the Incinerator, which represents 19 north Oxfordshire parishes opposing the facility.

Campaign leader Jon O’Neill, said: “It’s a blow. Technically speaking they are one step closer to getting what they want, however, at the same time they have still got to get planning permission.

“We lobbied the EA hard and to be fair it has been good meeting and taking on our concerns.

“But the permit doesn’t say the incinerator is completely safe because no-one can come out and say an incinerator is 100 per cent safe.

“Just because you pass your driving test does not mean you can drive.”

Viridor must now win a public inquiry that was called after the county council rejected the scheme.

The council turned down the plan last October after councillors ruled it conflicted with council aims to protect the open countryside from “large permanent buildings”.

The result of the inquiry is expected on or before Friday, January 14, next year.