THE bill for consultancy work and legal fees run up by the county council during the fight to build a controversial incinerator in Worcestershire reached nearly £900,000, it has been revealed.

The costs during the run-up to the £165 million rubbish burner being given the go-ahead went 20 times over budget.

Work has now started on the incinerator, which is due to open in Hartlebury in 2017.

But new figures show the council’s budget spiralled 2,000 per cent off course, revealing:  

* In 2013/14, £22,950 was set aside for legal fees on the council’s Private Finance Initiative (PFI), but it spiralled to £314,486.

* The council budgeted to spend just £19,489 on consultants’ advice, but the bill rose to a staggering £556,715.

It means despite budgeting to spend around £42,000 in both areas last year, the end cost ran to a whopping £870,000.

The waste plant, which will burn 20,000 of tonnes of rubbish a year, was approved by Worcestershire County Council in January.

The new findings have been labelled “absolutely unbelievable” by campaigners, who say a fresh investigation is needed into why the costs were so high.

The data is contained in the council’s 2013/14 accounts, which are made available for public inspection for a limited period each summer.

The council’s Conservative leadership has long argued that one of the key arguments in favour of building the plant is value-for-money.

Rob Wilden, from Herefordshire and Worcestershire Action Group (HWAG), which has been protesting against the facility, said: “This is completely off the Richter scale.

“You couldn’t run a business like this, but for some reason the council thinks it’s OK to throw money around and overspend by 20 times its own budget.

“We knew the total costs of the waste PFI contract were going to be utterly horrendous but I find this absolutely unbelievable.”

Rubbish from the plant will be collected from across Worcestershire and Herefordshire, burning it to generate electricity for the National Grid.

The site will be run by West Mercia Waste Management under the PFI deal, but will be handed back to Worcestershire and Herefordshire councils to operate from 2023.

When it approved it back in January, the council said existing landfill sites are dangerously close to being full and on current trends will be filled by 2024.

The council also claims carrying on using landfill would have seen the cost of dealing with the county’s waste spiral to £2.1 billion by 2042, while the cost with the incinerator will be £1.6 billion.

Cllr Anthony Blagg, cabinet member for the environment, said the reason for the high figure was because in May this year the council agreed “significant” changes to the contract signed back in 1998 to finally develop the plant.

He said: “The additional expenditure of approximately £870,000 relates to the gross costs the councils’ incurred from engaging technical, legal and financial consultants during the financial year to specifically support us in negotiations of the contract variation.

It was fully met by council’s reserves that had been set aside in previous years to fund these costs.”