A decision on plans to build a controversial incinerator is due to be made tonight amid accusations the council has pre-empted the outcome.

Members of Sutton Council's development control committee are set to approve plans to build an energy recovery facility, which would incinerate rubbish from Sutton, Croydon, Merton and Kingston and convert it into heat and electricity, at a meeting tonight.

But opponents of the scheme have criticised the council for appearing to pre-empt the panel's decision by trying to put measures to distribute energy generated by the plant in place beforehand.

The council has denied the claim, saying its plans to harness energy from the site are not dependent on the application being successful.

If the application, being made by waste management firm Viridor, is successful the incinerator will replace the Beddington Lane landfill site in 2017.

It will take non-recyclable rubbish from the four boroughs and burn it to create energy.

Electricity from the plant will go into the national grid but heat from the plant would only be piped to nearby homes if a company comes forward to distribute it.

The council confirmed it has been talking to Viridor about supplying heat to the houses itself - something opponents of the scheme have criticised.

Councillor Tim Crowley, whose Conservative colleagues on the development control committee are likely to oppose the plan, said: "It seems like a conflict of interests, it's very pre-emptive. I don't see why they can't just wait until after the decision is made to get involved with things like this."

The council says it has been talking to Viridor about supplying heat to nearby homes since 2009 by using gas from the existing landfill site but has recently been exploring the idea of supplying heat from the ERF.

A spokesman said: "It’s only recently that we have been able to speak to developers in a position to make this project financially viable.

"If the heat network project does go ahead it would dramatically increase the environmental efficiency of the Viridor site and allow Sutton Council to provide lower cost and more sustainable energy to a large number of local people."

The council's planning officers have advised councillors  to give the scheme the go-ahead on the grounds it would benefit the community through reduced landfill taxes and the creation of a public park on the landfill site while producing negligible pollution.

But campaigners distrust Viridor's claims about pollution and fear emissions from the plant will raise infant mortality rates.

A decision was due to be made on the application last month but councillors tied a vote and deferred the decision to tonight.

Protests are expected outside the meeting, which takes place in the Europa Gallery at Sutton Library from 8pm. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

For live updates from the meeting follow reporter @therealMikePyle or @suttonguardian on Twitter, or visit this website this evening.