A DECISION on whether to press ahead with a £120 million Hartlebury incinerator has been delayed until next year amid concerns over the costs.

Worcestershire County Council has decided to investigate “alternative financing” for the controversial scheme following fears bank loans may not be value for money.

The delay was announced during a meeting last Thursday when campaigners turned up to call the scheme a “high risk and speculative” venture that should be scrapped.

But defiant members of the ruling Conservative cabinet said they were determined to approve it next year after finding the best funding model.

The waste-to-power project will power electricity to 20,000 homes and is being funded by a private finance initiative after West Mercia Waste signed a 25-year contract with the authority.

A report put before the cabinet says the deal is based on “relatively expensive bank debt financing” and needs to be reviewed. It added other options could include “institutional financing” via bonds or a pension provider, or part-borrowing from the Government.

In the meantime, the cabinet has approved spending £1.8 million on preparing the land at Hartlebury to make way for the facility.

Campaigner Rob Wilden, of Herefordshire and Worcestershire Action Group, said: “The council’s failures has resulted in 60 variations costing more than £49 million to date – how can they justify this sort of spend?

“It is unbelievable the cabinet intends to press ahead with groundworks costing £1.8 million while making cuts to services – local authorities should not be engaging in speculative high risk commercial ventures.”

The authority rejected the criticism by saying it can “no longer carry on putting waste into the ground” because of ever-increasing landfill taxes.

The new site, which will take rubbish from across Worcestershire and Herefordshire, was given consent by the Government in July.

Conservative Adrian Hardman, council leader, said: “We need to get the best possible decision on waste because the costs of what we are doing is rising and rising.

“Both counties spend £39 million a year disposing of it and landfill taxes are about to rise to £8 a tonne. All the while we are stuck where we are now, with no sustainable alternative.

“We are taking more time than I would have wished but I don’t want us to lose momentum on this – it has cross-party support of this council and we are pressing ahead to find a solution.”

The total costs of the project are being kept under wraps for commercial reasons, but council chiefs have estimated the setting up will be about £120 million.

Critics believe the total bill to taxpayers during the lifetime of the contract could reach £1 billion, but this has been rejected.