REDCAR and Cleveland Council has defended its involvement with a new £300m energy from waste plant amid fears it could be a deterrent to improving recycling rates.

The energy recovery facility, due to be built on the Grangetown Prairie site at Teesworks, will burn up to 450,000 tonnes of domestic solid waste a year from 1.5m households, creating electricity for the National Grid.

Councillor Philip Thomson, leader of the newly formed Cleveland Independents group on the council, said: “It should not be a disincentive to doing what we ought to be doing all the time and more of, which is recycling.

“We have a lot to do on this and it is much easier to open the fire and put your waste in it than dealing with its accumulation in the first instance.”

Cllr Thomson also said the plant, which is due to be operational in 2026, would not operate to the highest standards in terms of its impact on air quality.

He said: “At the moment I’m not convinced that is the immediate target, in fact I know it is not.”

Last year Cllr Thomson labelled the council’s household recycling rates as “abysmal”.

He added: “Wherever possible we should be recycling – we really need to pull our socks and change gear.

“We know that not every business has got provision for recycling – they should do.

“Not every householder bothers to recycle – they should do.

“That is the big challenge for each and everyone of us and particularly for a local authority.

“We have got to do better, we have a planet to look after and secure for the future.”

Cllr Thomson said he wanted a survey of businesses in the borough aimed at ensuring they were provided with adequate recycling facilities.

Redcar and Cleveland Council has teamed up with the four other councils in the Tees Valley – Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Stockton – and been joined by Durham County Council and Newcastle City Council to commission the design, build, financing and eventual operation of the energy recovery facility.

Three companies – Viridor Waste Management Ltd, Suez Recycling and Recovery Ltd and Green Recovery Projects Ltd – are in the running for the award of the contract, which could eventually be worth more than £2bn and extend up to 40 years.

The agent acting on behalf of the councils, JBA Consulting, has said state-of-the-art air pollution control equipment would clean the gases produced and emissions would be controlled and continuously monitored.

It said the plant would make a positive contribution to sustainable waste management and low carbon energy in the North-East.

But environmental groups have expressed concern, claiming thousands of tonnes of recyclable resources, even food waste, would be burnt.

The group Stop Incineration North East has called on council leaders to cancel the planned build and also says it will encourage more pollution, more waste and less recycling.

A Redcar and Cleveland Council spokeswoman said: “Helping residents to reduce waste and recycle more remains our priority in accordance with the Tees Valley Joint Waste Management Strategy and we hope to increase our recycling rate by up to 14 per cent over the next six years.

“Redcar and Cleveland Council achieved a recycling performance of just over 40 per cent in 2019/20, which was up from 38 per cent the year before, and is higher than the North-East average.

“Substantial new policy changes are due to be introduced nationally to help the UK achieve a very ambitious target average recycling rate of 65 per cent of municipal waste by 2035 and these changes will make it easier for residents and businesses to recycle – particularly for packaging and food waste.”

She added: “Even under these ambitious recycling targets and emerging policy both locally and nationally, there will always be some waste left over that cannot be recycled and the Tees Valley Energy Recovery Facility will put this waste to good use by producing energy from it.

“This provides a more sustainable and lower-carbon solution than sending this leftover waste to landfill, which is the alternative.

“Through the tender process we have specified a proven, safe and reliable technology and shortlisted three experienced operators with a good track record of performance.

“The new facility will be permitted and monitored by the Environment Agency to ensure adherence to strict regulatory controls.”

A spokesman for the project previously said the plant was “in no way an impediment” to recycling rates and helping households to recycle as much as possible remained a priority for the councils involved.