By Chris Bishop
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
It would be ‘ludicrous’ to build an incinerator on the opposite side of Norfolk to the county’s biggest producer of waste, a public inquiry into the scheme heard today.
Now the four main parties have made their opening submissions, the inquiry will adjourn for a week to give the inspector time to familiarise herself with the case.
It will reconvene on Tuesday, March 5, at the Professional development centre, in Kilham’s Way (9.30am).
From then witnesses will be called by the parties to give evidence on various issues such as air quality or flooding. These will be cross-examined, meaning some could be in for lengthy questioning.
Once witness evidence has concluded, third parties including members of the public will have their say.
A programme setting out who will be appearing when and an approximate timescale is expected to be published later this week.
As the two main opponents to the scheme made their opening speeches this afternoon Natalie Lieven QC, on behalf of West Norfolk council, said there were “fundamental objections” to the incinerator.
“It is accepted that there are benefits from the nature of the proposal,” she added. “However this is not a suitable site to deliver those benefits and the application itself fails substantially in demonstrating that it is. The objections demonstrate that this application should be refused.”
Miss Lieven said the council objected on three areas of policy - proximity, waste hierarchy and prematurity.
“The European Union Directive on waste requires that the network of waste disposal and recovery installations established enables waste to be recovered in one of the nearest appropriate installations by means of the most appropriate methods and technologies,” she said.
The story starts in March 2006, when plans for an incinerator on the outskirts of Norwich were thrown out after a determined campaign by residents.
That same year, Norfolk County Council published its new waste management strategy, embracing “the universally-accepted waste hierarchy, giving priority to reducing, reusing and recycling waste and sending less to landfill”. It also pledged the council would find better ways of disposing of so-called residual waste than burying it in landfill, using “modern technology”.
The following year, the county council said it was applying for PFI (Private Finance Initiative) credits from the government to pay for new “waste treatment infrastructure”. In 2008, the county council bought the Willows site at Saddlebow, near King’s Lynn. In 2009, it invited companies to come forward with ways of dealing with our waste. Amey Cespa and Cory Wheelabrator were shortlisted. In November 2010, Cory became preferred bidder and the incinerator proposal was up and running.
Opposition was mounting fast, with a poll carried out by West Norfolk Council a week earlier revealing 92pc of residents were opposed to the plant. West Norfolk drew up the battle lines, councillors agreeing a £250,000 war chest to fund a legal fight against county hall.
A planning application was submitted in June, which was followed by an eight-week public consultation. Opposition mounted as parish councils across Norfolk weighed in. The county council ploughed ahead.
In January 2012, the then environment secretary Caroline Spelman agreed to award the PFI credits. A legal challenge later failed.
Behind the scenes, the war of words was turning ugly, with Tory councils at loggerheads.
In March, the contract to build and run the incinerator was formally awarded to Cory. A few weeks later, an email sent by Kevin Vaughan, political assistant to the Conservatives at County Hall, asked Radio Norfolk if it was aware of a leadership challenge to Nick Daubney, leader at West Norfolk, whose authority was struggling to come up with an alternative to incineration. Mr Vaughan was later suspended. The email would eventually lead to a standards hearing and the resignation of county council leader Derrick Murphy – the incinerator’s most high-profile supporter.
In June, the county council gave the incinerator planning permission after a stormy meeting. But the decision was immediately called in by Eric Pickles, which brings us to today.
“This necessitates consideration of the geographical relationship between where relevant waste streams arise and where they can appropriately be subject to recovery.”
Miss Lieven said the application failed to comply with the “proximity principle”.
“To suggest that it is the nearest appropriate installation and so fully compliant with the principles of self-sufficiency and proximity, when it is in the north west corner of the county and on the far side of the county from the largest settlement and waste producer in the county is ludicrous,” she said.
Miss Lieven said the borough council was concerned that the incinerator would be “a disincentive to recycle”. She added the borough was making efforts towards “innovative waste recycling”, which was evidenced by its signing a contract with Material Works to recycle its waste.
“The applicant and also the county council seek to squash this innovation and suggest no reliance should be placed upon the agreement with material works,” she said.
“That the applicant takes this position is unsurprising, however the position of the county council is unfortunate given that the Material Works agreement provides the potential for a major change in the way waste is handled in the county and a truly innovative way forward in the treatment and recycling of waste.”
Solicitor Carla Goodyear, appearing on behalf of KLWIN, said its evidence would focus on six separate areas.
She said they were the carbon footprint of the plant, the waste hierarchy, failings in the applicant’s emissions modelling, air pollution, the impact of the incinerator on the local ecology and environmental health effects.
“Evidence will show that for each kilowatt hour of energy produced, the quantity of carbon dioxide released from the facility would exceed that of other power sources,” she said.
“It exceeds that of gas power stations and would also exceed that of any coal-fired power station that would be permitted in the future.
“It is KLWIN’s submission that the facility fails to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is not low carbon and hinders efforts to decarbonise the power supply. Furthermore, the facility’s environmental impact in terms of climate change is significant and unsustainable.”
When the firm behind the plan made its opening submission, its lawyer claimed the Willows business park, at Saddlebow, offered “unrivalled opportunities”.
Richard Phillips QC, appearing on behalf of Cory Wheelabrator, said: “In our experience, it is rare to find a site so well suited to an efw (energy from waste) proposal.
“The site is located in an industrial estate lying within the settlement boundary of King’s Lynn and in an area that is identified in the development plan as being suitable for development.
“The site enjoys unrivalled opportunities to deliver combined heat and power. Indeed, the application site could hardly be bettered in Norfolk.
“Not only is there a very short and easy connection to the grid for the export of electricity, the site immediately adjoins the largest heat user within Norfolk, Palm Paper, and is in close proximity to the proposed major new growth and regeneration areas of King’s Lynn which have the potential to benefit from a district heating system.”
Mr Phillips said contracts for the supply of heat and power could not be entered into before planning permission was obtained. He added Palm Paper, given the controversy over the plant, wished to remain neutral but had not dismissed the option of taking heat from the plant.
He added: “The application site is well served by the existing local and strategic road network, is generally remote from important cultural heritage assets and potentially sensitive receptors, including dwellings, and is of no ecological importance itself.”
Mr Phillips said while concerns had been expressed about the incinerator’s impact on Roydon Common and Dersingham Bog nature reserves, there had been no objections from the Environment Agency or Natural England.
Ian Cameron QC, on behalf of Norfolk County Council, said as waste authority, it gave the incinerator application “careful consideration”.
“Following initial scrutiny of the application by its own officer and external consultants, the county council was not satisfied with the information that had been submitted by the applicant.
“As a result the county council requested a very significant amount of additional information. A substantial body of additional information was provided.
“Following scrutiny of that information and receipt of consultation responses from statutory consultees and the public, the council’s officers recommended to members that planning permission be granted.
“The members considered the report prepared by officers and resolved to accept their recommendation.”
Hundreds of people have turned out for the first day of the public inquiry into controversial plans for an incinerator on the outskirts of King’s Lynn.
Earlier Elizabeth Hill, the inspector who will be overseeing the inquiry, explained her role would be to listen to the evidence before making a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Communities, Eric Pickles, who would make the final decision.
Mrs Hill, who has stepped in after the inspector originally due to run the inquiry was taken ill, said it would adjourn for a week after today, to give her time to read background papers.
She said it would resume next Tuesday and a timetable for the rest of the hearing will be published later this week.
Inquiry papers will be made available online, via the link above. Hard copies of all documents will also be available at West Norfolk council’s offices in Chapel Street.
Follow the link above for the latest from the inquiry on our live blog.