Government officials have warned West Norfolk council that its legal challenge against the King’s Lynn incinerator stands no chance of succeeding, it emerged last night.

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It came as the Lynn-based authority launched a formal bid to have the planning decision called in and dealt with by an independent inspector.

West Norfolk hopes to win a judicial review of environment secretary Caroline Spelman’s decision to award Norfolk County Council £91m in waste infrastructure credits to build the so-called “energy from waste” plant at Saddlebow.

Last November, Ms Spelman told the county council she was not convinced there was a broad consensus of support for the plan. But in January, she approved the funding.

West Norfolk council’s lawyers wrote to Ms Spelman’s department, Defra, asking for the grounds on which she changed her mind, as an initial step in the legal process.

In their response, seen by the EDP, they say West Norfolk does not have “any arguable grounds of challenge” against Ms Spelman’s decision.

Last night West Norfolk council leader Nick Daubney said: “We have received a response to our pre-action protocol letter from the Secretary of State.

“This response, along with the supporting documentation has been sent to our QC, who will now consider whether there is merit in pursuing the claim.

“If it is determined that there is merit in pursuing the claim, then the next stage is apply to the court for permission to judicially review the Secretary of State’s decision.

“We have until 18 April to submit our application for permission.”

Defra refutes West Norfolk’s claim that Ms Spelman had no new information before her between November, when she warned the county council that she was concerned over the strength of opposition to the plan, and January, when she decided to award the credits.

“Broad consensus is not interpreted as meaning that there has to be unanimous support or no material dissent nor that there must be unanimity amongst all interested parties and/or relevant local authorities,” the letter to West Norfolk council’s lawyers adds.

West Norfolk has set aside £250,000 to cover the possible costs of fighting the incinerator through the courts. But Mr Daubney has said he would only do so if the council’s lawyers say it has a case.

Yesterday West Norfolk also issued a formal request to the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to call in the incinerator planning application, which is expected to be discussed by the county council in May.

Mr Daubney said: “This matter is of such significance that we believe it should not be determined by Norfolk County Council but should instead be the subject of a full public inquiry led by an independent planning inspector.

“Norfolk County Council may have to pay financial penalties of up to £20.3m if planning permission is not awarded.

“People, not only in West Norfolk but across the county, believe that this gives the impression of bias, and therefore the only way to ensure that all public concerns are addressed is for the matter to be taken out of the hands of Norfolk County Council and instead dealt with by a government-appointed independent planning inspector.”

West Norfolk’s letter also cites the widespread opposition to the proposals from public bodies, individuals, the borough council and local MPs.

Mr Daubney added: “People can support this request for a call in by writing to Eric Pickles and urging him to trigger a full public inquiry and putting the matter before an independent planning inspector.”

Norfolk County Council yesterday declined to comment on either the Defra response or West Norfolk’s call-in bid, as it launched a fresh round of consultation into three issues raised in the planning process.

They include the visual impact of the scheme, taking account new information on the proposed route of the national grid overhead power line, assessments of the health risks from bottom ash, and information on transport impacts.

Graham Plant, cabinet member for planning and transportation, said: “A planning application was submitted to the authority in June and a public consultation followed. After thorough scrutiny of the application our planning officers wrote to the applicant asking for further information and clarification on a number of points. That information formed the basis of a second consultation.

“There are a couple of areas where, following the second consultation, we require a small amount of further information and clarification. This is a very complex application and requesting further information from the applicant was always a possibility. We always said we would be nothing less than thorough in our scrutiny of this application and that continues to be the case.

“We have already heard many opinions during the first two rounds of consultation and those opinions remain valid and will be taken into account. During this period we are keen to hear views relating specifically to this additional information and views on this extra detail are welcome.”

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