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Rockware fights start-up of new glass plant

Rockware Glass is fighting to stop a new glass bottle factory at Elton near Chester beginning operations.

It claims Quinn Glass’ plans for a significantly larger plant than it originally proposed never faced proper planning scrutiny and that the factory, expected to be among Europe’s biggest, will threaten many jobs.

Quinn received planning permission for an eight machine line/three filling line factory in October 2003, but Rockware argues Chester City Council acted incorrectly by approving a substantially bigger operation (1.5M rather than the original 1.25M sq ft) via an amended application in March 2004. It says it should have insisted on a new plan, subject to full environmental impact assessment, and claims the plant’s air-fired furnace (Quinn originally proposed an oxygen-fired one) will contravene Integrated Pollution Prevention Control legislation in emitting well over the permitted 500mg of nitrous oxide (NOx)/m3 limit. It is also concerned about the impact on jobs in Yorkshire, where it, Allied Glass, Beatson Clark, Stolzle Flaconnage and Rexam Glass all have plants.

Late last year the High Court ruled Chester City Council should not have approved the amended application, quashed the decision and ordered Quinn to submit a second application. Accompanied by a 1,000-page environmental impact report, this was due before council planners on March 3 but, just days before, the scheme was called in for public enquiry.

Rockware financial controller Keith Swindell says the council has taken no enforcement action to stop Quinn beginning operations, instead granting it a licence to run the furnace with unlimited NOx emission limits for the first year and within a 1,000mg/cubic centre limit for the second, “in direct contravention of IPPC guidelines”.

Chester City Council development coordination manager Brian Hughes says the Council had been “minded to grant the revised application” at the March 3 meeting since officers felt Quinn had satisfied key environmental concerns. He added: “Lack of planning approval does not constitute a reason for enforcement action, particularly since building and indeed operating a factory without it is not illegal.

“Even operating to the emissions levels Quinn proposes for the first two years, the factory would be among Europe’s cleanest glass packaging plants. Nor, as a planning authority, was it our job to consider the plant’s impact on employment elsewhere.”

The Quinn Group says it is “at a loss to understand the reasons” for its application being “called in” and has written to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for an explanation.

Quinn says its project has the full support of the local authorities, the North West Regional Development Agency and the DTI, which is backing it with a grant. The Northern Irish glass producer also claims the development will help reverse the long-term trend for Britain to have to import many glass containers from overseas.