RESIDENTS fighting plans for a Mid Cheshire salt mine to be used as a dump for potentially hazardous waste will begin their High Court challenge later this month.
Last December Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott granted permission to Minosus Ltd to deposit up to two million tons of waste in the massive caves created by mining activity in Jack Lane, Bostock.
It will mean thousands of tons of waste a year being brought into Winsford Rock Salt Mine from across the UK and dumped in worked-out parts of the mine under Bostock, Moulton and parts of Davenham.
Residents, whose case is being spearheaded by Moulton man John Kent, say they still have no idea what materials may be dumped there. They are worried about possible gas leaks and fires started by combustible material.
In documents submitted to the High Court in London, their barrister Richard Clayton QC said there were a number of reasons why the decision to grant planning permission was wrong in law.
He said that materials to be dumped in the caves were unspecified and although there was a promise that 'really dangerous' waste would not be there permanently, it could be stored temporarily.
Mr Clayton said such waste could remain in the caves until it was rejected by an onsite inspector, and no time limits for temporary storage had been set.
When planning permission was granted, the site was supposed to be returned to its natural state by 2011. But Mr Clayton said that supplies of rock salt - which is currently extracted at a rate of a million tons a year - could last until 2070.
The residents' appeal, which is due to run for three days, will begin on November 22, a couple of weeks before campaigners fighting plans for a massive gas plant in Byley have their day in the same court.
However, people fighting the Moulton scheme suffered a setback this week when they failed to win an adjournment so they could bring in the Environment Agency as a defendant in the case. At a hearing on Wednesday, they claimed the Environment Agency had fallen into error during the planning inquiry.
But Mr Justice Sullivan refused permission for an adjournment so the Environment Agency could be joined as a defendant alongside Mr Prescott and Cheshire County Council. Minosus is also likely to be represented as an 'interested party'.
Two months ago the Environment Agency issued Minosus a permit to store waste. If the High Court challenge proves unsuccessful, dumping of the hazardous waste could start in 2005.
About 100,000 tons of hazardous waste will be taken to the site every year, mostly from manufacturing industry in the North West. Waste will arrive at the mine in drums or flexible intermediate bulk containers - commonly known as big bags.
Once in the designated disposal area, the waste, still in drums or big bags, will be placed into its final position just as if it was being stored in a conventional warehouse.
Hazardous waste was previously mixed with household rubbish and put into surface landfill sites, but European law means the two cannot be put together. Minosus's facility is one of the first solutions.
Tory MP Stephen O'Brien is backing the fight and said: 'I have backed local protesters from the outset and maintain that John Prescott and the Government have got this wrong and should not have granted planning permission for the disposal of toxic waste in worked-out sections of the mine.'