EXCLUSIVE: King’s Lynn incinerator decision delayed as Eric Pickles continues to consider “complex” case
Eric Pickles will miss his own deadline to decide whether or not to give the green light to the King’s Lynn incinerator, angering county council leaders who say “the clock is ticking very fast”.
The cabinet minister, who has the ultimate decision about whether or not the incinerator will be given planning permission, is said to still be sifting through a “complex” inspector’s report into the proposal Saddlebow plant.
There is no new deadline, but the EDP understands it will be longer than the next few weeks as the communities secretary goes through the lengthy dossier.
The planning application was “called in” by the government in August 2012 after a record number of people wrote in. An inquiry was held last spring and the report of the inspector, who headed the probe, reached Mr Pickles desk in the Autumn.
Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs said that while he understood time was needed to “carefully consider” the inspector’s report, clarity was needed because there was “so much at stake” in services, jobs and potentially council tax.
He said: “We hardly have any room for manoeuvre because of the reductions in grant, but we want to avoid painful cuts as far as is possible,” he added. “Even at this late stage, we stand ready to offer any clarification, should Mr Pickles seek it. I sincerely hope he will feel himself in a position to give us his decision as quickly as possible for the sake of our residents.”
But North-West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham, a staunch anti-incinerator campaigner, said the decision by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to withdraw credits, since the inspector’s report was written, needed to be carefully considered.
The government cancelled the waste credits, which would have been worth £169m to run the plant, in October.
An independent report into the way the controversial contract for the incinerator was entered into was published last month. Jonathan Acton Davis, QC concluded proper processes were followed.
But campaigners against the incinerator say a golden opportunity to pull the plug on the burner was lost when, in October, the county council voted by 40 votes to 38 to agree a revised project plan for the plant.
Mr Bellingham said the secretary of state was “entitled to take as long as he likes to consider it” and he was “not expecting a decision anytime soon.”
He added: “Indeed I believe that it is essential he goes through it page by page, as well as carefully analysing the withdrawal of the waste credits by Defra, which is a key new material consideration.
“In the meantime I’ve requested the Defra secretary urgently review the Environment Agency permit, which should never have been issued as the site is in a category three flood zone.”
But David Harrison, cabinet member for environment, transport, development and waste, at Norfolk County Council added: “Nobody can argue that the planning process has been anything less than thorough - On top of that, a number of independent reviews into this issue have answered people’s concerns about the contract process.
“Any delay would be most frustrating because we now need a prompt decision on this matter, not just because we need to conclude a budget for the coming year, but also because we need certainty about the long-term future of Norfolk’s household waste.”