No recycling in my patch, says Tory green chief

Environment spokesman opposes waste project in his 'beautiful' constituency

Attempts by the Tories to boost their green credentials were attacked as a sham after it emerged that the man who would be Environment Secretary in a Conservative government is fighting to stop the construction of two recycling plants in his constituency.

The Conservatives have promised to push Britain towards a "goal of a zero-waste society". But Nick Herbert, shadow Environment Secretary, who has called for more recycling schemes, is opposing the construction of two major facilities in his Arundel & South Downs constituency, claiming that they are "the right idea in the wrong place".

Mr Herbert has written to West Sussex County Council arguing that the "rural character of the South Downs and surrounding countryside and villages must be protected".

His battle against the developments also appears to contradict a second Tory manifesto pledge to reduce landfill and "encourage alternative forms of waste disposal".

Mr Herbert is siding with residents who are trying to block a plan to convert a sawmill into a state-of-the-art plant capable of recycling 75,000 tonnes of waste a year, including plasterboard, gypsum, plastic and timber.

He has argued that the Focus Recycling site, on the Mackley industrial estate, Small Dole, is too close to a village. He is also opposing a new composting facility, proposed by the firm Olus Environmental, arguing that it is planned for a site at the foot of the South Downs.

James Copperwait, managing director of Focus Recycling, said he nearly fell off his chair when he learnt that Mr Herbert was opposing the facility. He said Mr Herbert had seemed supportive when he had met the project's team just days earlier.

"You would have thought that the potential future Environment Secretary would support recycling," he said. "It is all very bizarre. The site is a disused sawmill and the local authority has said that we would be less of a nuisance than the previous business. The Environment Agency has also passed it with no objection. The county council want to build recycling facilities and we seem to tick every box there is.

"This country needs recycling quite urgently. I was very surprised by his opposition, but I know exactly why he has done it. It's all about votes."

Mr Cameron has worked hard to improve the green record of his party, part of his strategy to detoxify the Tory brand. He once told voters to "vote blue, go green". However, he has been criticised for the lack of attention given to environmental policies during the current election campaign.

Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, said: "Nick Herbert says that he is a big supporter of recycling, but it seems that this does not extend to giving his backing to recycling facilities in his own constituency.

"David Cameron has tried to change the Tories' image by talking up his green credentials, but it's clear that beyond the photoshoots with huskies they haven't changed a bit." Tim Farron, the environment spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: "For the Tories' environment spokesman to object to a recycling centre out of pure Nimbyism shows their utter hypocrisy on green issues."

Mr Herbert defended his opposition to the sites, saying said that he represented "one of the most beautiful constituencies in Britain" and that more sensible locations should be found for them. "There is no environmental gain if we damage an area of exceptional beauty and the tranquillity of a local community," he said.

"My objection should not be taken as any kind of objection to recycling. In the case of the Focus Recycling plant, the lorry traffic would be significant and the local community have already suffered from that for a long time. We need to be sensible about where these facilities are located."