King’s Lynn incinerator gets green light from Norfolk County Council
County councillors have agreed to grant planning permission for an incinerator on the edge of King’s Lynn, following a marathon meeting which lasted more than seven hours.
Feelings ran high at yesterday’s meeting, with campaigners questioning the figures which had been used to justify the plant, while one of the companies behind the plant was forced to defend its record in the United States.
Concerns were also raised about whether the emissions from the proposed Willows Power and Recycling Plant at Saddlebow would be harmful to health, what sort of monitoring would be carried out and the impact of flooding on the plant.
Before the debate got under way, virtually all members of Norfolk County Council’s planning committee declared interests, with the scheme, which could cater for up to 270,000 tonnes of waste a year, having already been discussed at various parish, town, district and county council meetings.
The council’s cabinet agreed in March last year to award a contract to Anglo-US consortium Cory Wheelabrator and a £20m breakage clause exists with the companies behind the plant should it not go ahead.
And environment secretary Caroline Spelman has agreed to hand over £91m in waste credits so the company can deal with 170,000 tonnes of the county council’s waste for the next 25 years.
But members of the planning committee stressed they were approaching the 570-plus report with an “open mind”, with officers reminding them that their decision was to be based on planning policy.
Prior to the meeting, campaigners against the plant had criticised the lack of time given to them to speak, although the authority said it was in excess of the usual time. And the first speaker, North West Norfolk Conservative MP Henry Bellingham, who has long campaigned against the incinerator quickly clashed with chairman John Rogers, after he went over his allotted time.
Mr Bellingham urged councillors to “stand up for democracy” by not allowing the incinerator to be built.
Going over his three minutes of allotted time Mr Bellingham said the council needed to live up to its At Your Service motto and reject Cory Wheelabrator’s proposals.
Clashing with Mr Rogers, the MP said he would not be stifled. He said: “One of the lessons of the Arab Spring and events in Europe such as Greece is that you defy democracy at your peril.
“What will happen is that people will lose trust in you. I ask you today to stand up for democracy.”
He said ignoring West Norfolk Council’s referendum, which saw 65,000 people vote against incineration, went against the spirit of the Localism Act and the Big Society.
Other campaigners who spoke included environmental consultant Richard Burton, who presented figures from Norfolk’s landfill sites which showed the reduced carbon footprint which officers said would be created by the incinerator were not as high as the report stated.
He said the officer’s report relied on Dutch figures to estimate the carbon footprint of the incinerator compared to landfill, when figures he obtained from Norfolk revealed the amount of methane produced in Norfolk’s landfill sites was not as high, so the ‘benefits’ of switching to incineration would not be as great.
Mr Burton said, despite him submitting that data, officers had not included it in their report, so members of the committee did not have the best available data to use when making their decision.
Sixteen-year-old Jonah Oliver queried the sense of building in a flood zone and said other countries were turning away from incineration, while Mike Knights, a long-standing campaigner against the scheme, highlighted issues with Wheelabrator plants in the United States, where the company had to pay out millions of dollars in a lawsuit after pollution accusations.
West Norfolk Borough Council planning committee chairman Vivienne Spikings criticised the lack of West Norfolk representatives on the planning committee and said confidence in the process had been eroded.
Planning officers from West Norfolk Council said the application should be turned down for being contrary to planning policy.
That prompted planning committee member Barry Stone, who represents Lothingland, to mention that West Norfolk Council had approved an incinerator at Palm Paper, next to the Saddlebow site, to which Mrs Spikings retorted that plant was not lumbering the taxpayer with a 20-plus year contract.
Representatives from parish councils including Wiggenhall St Germans Parish Council, Leziate and North Runction, all made their objections clear, while King’s Lynn GP Dr Pallavi Devulapalli said: “I think there is significant risk to health”.
The company which wants to build the incinerator said it was the best possible site for such a plant in Norfolk and said the monitoring of emissions would meet recognised standards.
Cory Wheelabrator also responded to criticism of Wheelabrator-run plants in the United States by saying they adhered to high safety and environmental standards and had never had a permit revoked.
They said a multi-million dollar settlement which the company did reach after a lawsuit alleging pollution at three of their 17 plants in the US was made to avoid getting entangled in years of litigation.
Richard Wilkinson, for Cory Environmental, said the Saddlebow site was the best possible site for such a plant in Norfolk.
And he hit out at “misinformation or misrepresentation” over national planning policy - seemingly a swipe at West Norfolk Council’s claim the application went against planning policy.
In response to a question from Labour group leader George Nobbs, Cory Environmental’s planning director John Bolden also said the £20m breakage clause, potentially payable by the council if the scheme fails, was not unique to Norfolk and was standard practice.
Members of the committee put forward two proposals to defer the decision, saying they did not currently have enough information to decide, but they were both lost.
Just before 5.30pm, the committee accepted officers’ recommendations that planning permission should be granted. The committee voted nine in favour, four against and with two abstentions.