COUNCILLORS will decide today whether to press ahead with a public vote on a biomass power station in Southampton after the cost of the poll soared 15 times the first estimate.

Campaigners fighting the proposed plant at the city’s western docks now think the estimated £75,000 cost of holding a so-called “preferendum” later this year would be better spent fighting a planning application.

Southampton City Council had originally set aside £5,000 for the vote on energy firm Helius’ proposals to build the 100-megawatt facility near homes in Millbrook and Freemantle.

No Southampton Biomass said members want the council to spend the money more “wisely” on getting expert legal advice on the planning process.

Opposition Tories said the referendum had become a vanity project for the Labour administration.

Legal rules mean a planned vote alongside the elections for Hampshire first Police and Crime Commissioner in November would have to be held in separate polling stations, pushing up the costs.

Council leader Richard Williams had called on local government minister Grant Shapps to remove the legal hurdles so it could be held side-by-side with the police commissioner elections but the Government has refused to change the law.

Councillors will decide later whether or not to continue with the planned vote on the question:

"Do you support the current proposals by Helius Energy for a 100 megawatt biomass power plant on the Western Docks?”

It would not be legally binding.

Helius said its proposed biomasss power plant, which could generate enough electricity to power 200,000 homes, is needed to help cut the country’s carbon emissions.

It would burn up to 800,000 tonnes of wood fuel each year, mostly shipped in through the docks from abroad.

Helius said it intends to submit a planning application by the end of the year.