A COUNCIL will pay nearly £500,000 in costs for the controversial Ghost Ships saga.

Hartlepool Borough Council faces the bill after Able UK appealed against the decision to reject planning applications to extend the use of its Graythorp yard in 2006.

The planning committee’s decision was later overturned after a public inquiry in 2007.

The £470,000 legal bill is expected to be paid from council reserves.

In October 2006, the planning committee rejected three planning applications and a hazardous substances consent over concerns about the effect on the environment, tourism, health and wildlife habitats.

At the inquiry a year later, the planning committee chose not to give evidence following new Government guidance called Overview of Ship Recycling in the UK, which recognised the need to develop facilities for ship dismantling.

Planning inspector Ken Smith said permission should be granted and ordered the council to pay for the full twoweek hearing, apart from the last day.

Hazel Blears, who was then secretary of state for communities and local government, backed the decision, saying it was national policy to develop a safe approach to the recycling of end-of-life vessels.

Peter Stephenson, Able UK chief executive, said: “We would much rather have not been forced into the position of having to seek costs.

“In reality, the figure now agreed is just a fraction of the costs we incurred as a company because of the delay in regaining existing planning approvals and the loss of potential new business.

“I hope that we can now look forward to a positive future in which we are able to continue establishing Able Seaton Port as a centre of excellence for marine and renewable energy industries and building on the hundreds of jobs we have already created.”

A spokesman for Hartlepool Borough Council said: “This has been one of the most complex planning issues that the council has ever had to consider.

“All of the proper democratic processes have been followed and, at every stage, members of the planning committee made decisions based on the information before them.

“The council has known for over two years that it was facing a legal bill, so finances have been set aside and there won’t be any significant impact on services.”

Further details will be revealed on Wednesday.