PLANS to continue the controversial underground dumping of hazardous waste in Winsford for the next 20 years have been unanimously approved.

Cheshire West and Chester Council planning chiefs rubber-stamped the proposals for the continued storage of the material at Winsford Rock Salt Mine on Jack Lane in Bostock when it met late yesterday afternoon.

The site is Britain’s only working salt mine which is used to mine rock salt for icy roads, and has been operating since 1844.

But in 2004, then deputy Prime Minister John Prescott gave permission for one of its shafts to be used for the storage of hazardous material.

It followed a public inquiry and huge opposition from some local politicians and residents.

The project originally received permission in 2002 after Cheshire County Council referred it to the secretary of state for a second opinion. But that was quashed in 2003 on a legal technicality, after a local resident's High Court challenge.

The deputy PM eventually gave the go-ahead saying it was the ‘the most sustainable method’ for disposing of the waste.

The waste is mainly ash from energy recovery facilities and soda slag streams from battery recycling. It is a national facility, with waste being brought in from a wide area.

Existing permission was due to run out in 2025, but the committee has now approved a recommendation by planning officers to extend that until at least 2045.

Moving approval, committee member Cllr Charles Fifield told the meeting: “Such a facility does need to exist. We have a large salt mine which is there, probably most people don’t realise either the salt mine or the waste store is there.

"I think clearly there have been no objections in relation to this. Until we’re able to recycle absolutely everything and in a position that we no longer produce any waste like this, then this is probably – if not the best – then the least bad place for it.”

The No.4 shaft – known as Minosus – is operated by waste and utilities company Veolia.

The 170m deep mine was classed as ideal for the waste with its dry caverns stretching over five square miles.

When permission was originally granted, less than eight per cent of the mine's 23 cubic metres of space was expected to be filled with waste by 2024.