A HUGE new incinerator which will help get rid of Britain's 600,000-tonne stockpile of cattle remains is now well on its way to completion near Fawley.

Waste disposal company Shanks has won a government contract to burn 190,000 tonnes of meat and bonemeal (MBM) over a 38-month period.

The waste is not from BSE-infected cattle, but from cattle which were culled when they were more than 30 months old and Shanks has already disposed of 40,000 tonnes since 1996.

"We were asked to submit for a new contract and we were awarded it in October 1999," company public relations officer Cynon Edwards explained.

When it won the new contract, it gained Environment Agency approval for the big new burner and was then told by Hampshire County Council, which is the waste disposal authority, that it needed planning permission.

Shanks felt it already had permitted development rights, but it applied and was given the go-ahead last month, by which time construction work was well under way. Work is on schedule and is set to be completed by late spring or early summer.

Seven new operators have already been employed and are being trained to work the new incinerator, which is stocked by tipper lorries unloading their cargoes of MBM into a purpose-built hopper.

It is then loaded into silos and taken by conveyor to the incinerator, which has a one-third share of a chimney already built.

And as far as the Intervention Board - the government department responsible for overseeing cattle waste disposal - is concerned, the extra furnace can't arrive quickly enough. Every month, an additional 2,000 tonnes of MBM is created in the UK.

The original incinerator was built in 1974 by Rechem, which was taken over in 1991 by Shanks, the former construction firm, which now concentrates solely on waste disposal. It gets rid of a total of seven million tonnes of waste per year, 30,000 at Fawley, and numbers nearly all of the UK's top manufacturing companies and retail chains among its customers.