The company chosen to process West Norfolk’s black bin waste has been given more time to deliver its side of the deal.
The extension of the arrangement between the borough council and Material Works was announced on Wednesday, following deliberations by the authority’s cabinet, which were held in confidential session the previous evening.
The move gives the company an extra three months, after the initial deal expires on December 13, to meet the conditions of its agreement with the council.
The arrangement can also be extended by up to three further three month periods, up to December of next year, if it is felt that sufficient progress is being made.
It is now hoped the process would come into operation by the end of 2017.
The announcement follows increasing concern in recent months over the slow progress of the project which, when it was first announced in 2012, was seen as a greener alternative to the controversial Lynn incinerator scheme.
But the council’s deputy leader, Brian Long, insisted the project remained “the only game in town” that could meet its objective to recycle as much waste as possible.
He said: “While it is disappointing we are not in a position to proceed at this stage, we are still firmly committed to recycling as much of our black bin waste as possible and, at present, the technology proposed by Material Works promises to be the most economically and environmentally sustainable way of achieving this.”
Mr Long said he understood there would be resistance from what he described as “established waste contractors”, as well as those who still supported other proposals, like the incinerator.
But he added: “The county council has proven that contract wasn’t right for Norfolk and the fact that we’re sending waste to Suffolk and Suffolk has spare capacity means it was marginal for them as well.”
Supporters of the project claim that the process, once in place, will be able to recycle up to 96 per cent of West Norfolk’s black bin waste, by turning it into a plastic-type material, known as rexylon.
The company says talks on sites for both a demonstrator plant and the main facility are continuing with landowners.
And Mr Long said he wanted to see planning consent for the demonstration unit determined by the first contract review in March.
The main facility would be sited in West Norfolk, although Mr Long said it did not necessarily have to be at a site associated with the waste industry, because of the manufacturing element of the process.
Although Material Works announced in January that it had secured £100 million of funding for the project, chief executive Robert Billson said there had been delays to the project because of the “highly complex” arrangements it had to make with its financial backers.
He said: “We are very much aware that it has taken us longer than we had planned to reach this stage, but we felt we had to request an extension. We are naturally delighted that the cabinet has granted us this.”
The firm also claims to have a contract for use of the finished plastic, with several other interested parties looking at it.