A CEMENT firm has been given approval for specialist machinery to allow the burning of scrap tyres as an alternative fuel.

But it could be several months before Castle Cement in Clitheroe is burning chipped tyres to provide up to 25 per cent of its energy requirements on kiln seven at its Ribblesdale works.

The company was given the go-ahead for the test-burning of tyres by the Environment Agency earlier this year and was due to start the trials this month.

County planners have given the company the go-ahead to erect the necessary plant and machinery, but environment bosses put the brakes on the project after requesting more technical data.

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said today that the trial-burning of tyres at Ribblesdale had been postponed pending a response from Castle Cement on technical matters.

"There is no date as yet for the start of tyre-burning at Castle Cement in Clitheroe. We have requested more information from the company and are awaiting its response.

"The response will go to public consultation before we give the final go-ahead and realistically it is going to take some time before the test-burning begins," she said.

The Environment Agency's Tyres Protocol claims burning tyres in cement kilns has a net environmental benefit compared to conventional fuels, with lower emisions of nitrogen oxides.

Castle Cement already burns tyres at its plant in Ketton, Rutland, where it claims a 20 per cent reduction in emissions.

More that 40 million tyres are scrapped in the UK each year and disposal is a major headache for the government following an EC ban on their disposal in landfill.

Castle Cement claims the exceptionally high temperatures of cement kilns completely consume the rubber and cotton in tyres, without any black smoke or smells.

A Castle Cement spokesman said: "The matter is in the hands of the Environment Agency who will decide the timing of the burning of tyres at Ribblesdale."

Councillors gave the scheme the thumbs-up on the condition that the machinery was removed within two years of the cessation of mineral extraction at the company's Lanehead Quarry in Clitheroe.

But clean air campaigner Mary Horner criticised planning bosses for giving approval for the scheme when the UK Government was currently being hauled over the coals in Europe for its handling of the burning of toxic waste.

"Lancashire County Council has given the go-ahead for the installation of facilities at Ribblesdale for the storage and processing of chipped tyres for burning when the UK Government is currently in trouble with the European Commission.

"The authorities need to look at this whole project carefully," she said.