by DAN GRIMMER
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
A High Court judge has rejected an attempt by West Norfolk Council to force a legal challenge over the proposed incinerator at King’s Lynn.
West Norfolk Council had sought a judicial review into the decision by environment secretary Caroline Spelman to award Norfolk County Council £91m in PFI credits to go towards the cost of the Willows Power and Recycling Plant.
But Mr Justice Eady has refused permission for that review, although West Norfolk Council will decide today whether to ask for the decision to be reconsidered in open court - a move which would cost taxpayers’ more money.
In his order, the judge stated: “There is no arguable case on irrationality or illegality. The claimant’s case goes essentially to the merits of the decision which was reached after a long and detailed consideration of all relevant factors.”
West Norfolk Council had questioned how Ms Spelman had been convinced, after seeking extra information from Norfolk councils that there was a “broad consensus” of support for the Norfolk Waste Partnership, to award the waste credits for the Saddlebow plant.
However, Mr Justice Eady said: “The argument...appears to be based on a misreading of ‘broad consensus’ as though it connoted unanimity.”
He said West Norfolk Council must pay DEFRA’s costs, which would be decided by the courts if not agreed by the parties.
But the borough council, which organised a poll in which 65,000 people voted against the incinerator, will decide today, after consulting lawyers, whether to request that the decision is reconsidered at a hearing in open court.
Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council, said: “We are disappointed that our case has not at this stage been given permission as we believe we have not yet received a satisfactory explanation for the secretary of state’s apparent change of heart.
“An oral hearing will give us the opportunity to persuade the judge of the merits of our case.”
He added it was especially frustrating that, despite the order from the courts being dated June 27, the authority had only received it on Monday this week, after it was mistakenly sent to Breckland Council.
That, he said, gave the council just a day to respond on whether to push for it to be reconsidered.
With £200,000 set aside by the borough council to pursue the judicial review, Mr Daubney said it was too early to say how much of that had been spent, or how much might yet be spent.
He said: “Sixty-five thousand people objected to this proposal and I think we owe it to them to take the best possible advice over this. “We don’t intend to waste money, but we will see what the professional advice is.”
Although Norfolk County Council’s planning committee agreed last month to grant permission for the plant, communities secretary Eric Pickles has requested more time to consider whether to call in their decision.
If he does, that would mean a planning inspector would look at the issue through a public inquiry.
And Mr Daubney said the borough council, which, along with all nine of Norfolk’s MPs, has requested that call-in, would continue to put pressure on Mr Pickles.
He said: “In the meantime, our focus of attention is to continue to press the case for Eric Pickles to call in the application and instigate a full, independent public inquiry.
“People who have an interest in this matter deserve a fair and transparent hearing. A public inquiry gives people the opportunity to make representations to an independent planning inspector.”
At County Hall, the judge’s decision to reject a judicial review was welcomed. Bill Borrett, cabinet member for environment and waste at Norfolk County Council, said: “I welcome Mr Justice Eady’s very clear ruling, which notes there is no arguable case on either irrationality or illegality.
“I said at the time the legal action was launched that I doubted whether the decision to pursue this legal challenge represented good value for local taxpayers.
“Securing credits worth £169m for the project over 25 years in January was very positive news for Norfolk residents as the grant represented the largest amount of central government funding for a single project that this council had ever received.
“I’m obviously pleased that the threat to the credits has now been removed.”
He said the case had been the subject of “intense scrutiny” and added: “There remain a number of crucially important hurdles to overcome, but this is another step forward for a project which will save Norfolk council taxpayers £8m a year - compared with the cost of using landfill to dispose of the same amount of waste.”
Last December, another High Court Judge refused an application by anti-incinerator campaigner Michael de Whalley for a judicial review into the county council’s decision to award a contract to Cory Wheelabrator to run the plant.
But fellow anti-incinerator campaigner Mike Knights said last night that the county council should still abandon the incinerator plan. He said: “Taking in to account the £20m compensation clause, abandoning the incinerator still makes sense.
“The amount of taxpayers’ money saved through ditching it for a more advanced waste treatment would easily exceed £150m.
“Outstanding questions need answering; why have cheaper more efficient waste technologies not been given a chance?”