HEREFORDSHIRE planners had heard nothing like it - a plea from a seriously ill committee chairman, dictated from his hospital bed, for fellow members to refuse one of the most controversial applications to come before them.

Then the stand-in chairman used his casting vote to put plans for a major waste treatment plant at Madley into limbo again after the committee vote ended in a tie yesterday (Wednesday).

To applause from a packed public gallery, Councillor Harry Bramer, acting chairman of Herefordshire Council's southern area planning sub-committee, said "the interests of democracy" were served by his siding with the no vote, given the strong opposition to the plant, proposed by waste management firm Estech.

The decision will now be passed to the council's main planning committee, because planning officers were worried that the council could not defend the sub-committee's reasons for refusal at an appeal.

Planning permission for the plant was first given in April 2004, but this decision was challenged at a Judicial Review brought by the campaign group Waste Watchers last year.

The High Court quashed the plant's go-ahead, citing issues with the way evidence of its likely environmental impact had been presented. Mr Justice Elias ruled that planners should have had all the information on that impact to hand before making their determination, rather than relying on controls and conditions put on afterwards.

In response, Estech submitted a new environmental statement and a fresh application, which came before the sub-committee as undetermined but recommended for approval.

Protesters said nothing had changed. They claimed the plant was still too close to homes and schools, posed a pollution risk, was too big for its surrounds and ill served by the existing roads network.

Committee members debated these points and the possibility of smells and nuisance from the plant forcing the nearby Gelpack factory and its 200 jobs elsewhere. Councillor Mark Cunningham moved the recommendation to refuse the application, which was passed by Councillor Bramer's casting vote.

Before the debate, the committee heard a plea from their sick chairman to refuse the application. In a letter dictated from his Birmingham hospital bed, Councillor Phil Turpin said the application was flawed and effectively made Herefordshire a testing ground for an untried waste disposal strategy. Moreton-on-Lugg or Rotherwas would have made better locations, he said.

Peter Yates, the council's development control officer, said it was rare for such a letter to be read out, but, in the circumstances, it was appropriate.

Estech and its supporters cited an array of statistics and scientific analysis to support their view. Herefordshire Council says the proposed plant, capable of processing 100,000 tonnes of waste per year, is crucial to its waste management strategy and ability to avoid huge fines if it cannot reduce landfill deposits to meet national targets by 2010.

After the meeting Waste Watchers chairman Mike Rogers said protestors were "delighted" to have won a battle, but had fight the "rest of the war."