Councillors who voted against a new cement factory in Askar yesterday overstepped their authority, say government officials.
Southern Municipal Council voted to reject a permit for the factory - despite four government bodies insisting that it had no right to do so and that permission stands for the project.
Work is currently under way on the Al Saqr Factory, in the Hafeera Industrial Area.
However, councillors voted at their weekly meeting yesterday to reject the permit, saying it would be an environmental and health hazard, as it was too close to residential areas.
They also demanded that the Southern Municipality get consent from the council before approving any industrial project.
Present at the meeting were representatives from the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife, the Municipalities and Agriculture Ministry and the municipality.
Council financial, administrative and legislative committee chairman and area councillor Nasser Al Mansouri said that the factory was less than two kilometres away from homes in the area.
"It is in Hafeera, which has not seen a new factory since the early 1980s," he said.
But Municipalities and Agriculture Ministry urban planning directorate representative Othman Al Ammadi said that the council’s role was restricted to consultation and that it had no right to reject or approve any project.
"Area classifications is under the council’s authority and they should be working to classify areas according to what they want them to be," he said. "In the end, the final decision to licence a project is in the hands of the municipality and they gave the factory the go ahead."
Public commission environment planning and assessment director Zahwa Al Kowari said that the project was studied thoroughly and that recommendations were taken into consideration by the factory investors.
"We have asked that they take measures to ensure there are a few gaseous emissions, with materials and storage facilities being covered up to ensure that dust doesn’t spread," she said.
"The factory owners have been asked to monitor chimneys all the time, in addition to hiring inspectors and setting up a hotline for people to call on any problems or emergencies.
"We have demanded that an annual report on the factory’s operations and its progress of work is presented to us."
Municipality acting director-general and technical services director Asem Abdullatif said that the factory investors had met all the required paperwork and were granted the permit accordingly.
"They have a permit from the Industry and Commerce Ministry, the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife and other ministries and organisations concerned, which means they are entitled to operate," he said.
"We don’t have to refer the case to the council, because the factory is not being built as an exception, it is being built in an industrial area, designed for such factories."
"The factory is away from houses, with other factories already operating in the same area."
He said that the municipality was not obliged to present all licences to the council because this would delay investors’ interests. "We have issued licences before and we don’t need to come every time to the council for any new licence," said Mr Abdullatif.
"The factory owners could take us to court, if we refused them the permit after meeting all relevant conditions."