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Meet some of the people who fought against the King’s Lynn incinerator plan - and won

PUBLISHED: 13:36 11 April 2014 | UPDATED: 15:31 11 April 2014

Anti-Incinerator campaigners (L) Mike Knights and Michael de Whalley. Picture: Ian Burt

Anti-Incinerator campaigners (L) Mike Knights and Michael de Whalley. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2014

When the King’s Lynn incinerator plan was thrown out earlier this week it marked the end of years of campaigning for a dedicated bunch. Chris Bishop focuses on some of them and their efforts.

John Dobson. Picture: Ian Burt John Dobson. Picture: Ian Burt

It all started on May 14, 2010, when MICHAEL DE WHALLEY organised a public meeting, with retired US chemistry professor Paul Connett, an expert on toxicology, as guest speaker.

Mr de Whalley, an IT consultant from Grimston, had been campaigning since 2008, when it first became public knowledge Norfolk County Council wanted to build an incinerator at Saddlebow.

But when he stood as Green candidate at the 2010 General Election, he realised the issue wasn’t at the top of the public’s agenda.

He’d seen Prof Connett on YouTube, putting the case against incinerators.

Alexandra Kemp at the candlelit vigil against the incinerator. Picture: Ian Burt Alexandra Kemp at the candlelit vigil against the incinerator. Picture: Ian Burt

“He was brilliant, he was putting the right argument across very coherently, very succinctly,” he said. “I thought I’ve got to get hold of this guy, get him down to speak.”

As it happened, Prof Connett was about to embark on a speaking tour of the UK, organised by anti-incinerator groups. When Mr de Whalley contacted one of the co-ordinators, they said Prof Connett was booked up.

But a day or two later, he got the call – Prof Connett could be in King’s Lynn, at 36 hours’ notice.

Just 24 people attended the meeting, which was held at the old Nar Ouse Regeneration Area offices in South Lynn. But among them were two who would go on to become leading figures in the campaign, alongside Mr de Whalley: Mike Knights and Richard Burton.

The scene at County Hall where the decision was announced to scrap the incinerator. Michael Knights, right, with other campaigners. Photo: Bill Smith The scene at County Hall where the decision was announced to scrap the incinerator. Michael Knights, right, with other campaigners. Photo: Bill Smith

Fruit farmer MIKE KNIGHTS from Middleton was all for the incinerator, the first time he heard about it, in early 2010.

“It sounded great to me,” he said. “I assumed it was the greenest thing to do, isn’t technology marvellous, we can get rid of rubbish and make electricity.”

But Mr Knights changed his mind after he attended the meeting organised by Mr de Whalley.

He said he checked out Prof Connett’s claims about emissions and their health risks and decided they were true.

“What do you do then, fight to stop it because it’s wrong, or just move house?” he said. “That’s why I threw myself at it.”

Mr Knights reckoned there were few nights when he went to bed before the small hours, spending long nights researching the issues, answering emails, organising meetings and preparing for the public inquiry.

Mr de Whalley said Mr Knights’s arrival on the scene was pivotal.

“I set up KLWIN (King’s Lynn Without Incineration) and Mike set up the farmer’s campaign,” he said.

“Six months after, we joined forces and it was joining forces that gave the campaign the impetus to work.”

RICHARD BURTON was another who attended the meeting. He runs a King’s Lynn-based environmental consultancy called Burton Environmental Consulting, which carries out environmental audits for businesses.

Mr Burton began looking first into the claims made by operators of incinerators, particularly their reporting of emissions.

He presented the anti-incinerator case at 15 public meetings against the county council to begin with, and Cory Wheelabrator when it emerged as the council’s preferred operator.

A running tally of votes taken at the meetings, held at village halls up and down West Norfolk, showed the public weren’t for burning.

Just three of them voted in favour of having an incinerator. And 1,397 voted against.

When West Norfolk council carried out its own poll, some 65,515 voted against and 5,173 in favour. Council leader NICK DAUBNEY said: “I was trying to keep an open mind, but I was really annoyed about how the county council announced we were having it,” he said.

“It was all going on around us.

“I went to a meeting with Derrick Murphy [former county council leader] and it was very obvious he was not going to listen, we were not going to have a constructive debate about it.

“He said the opposition was just a few activists. I knew it wasn’t, I wondered how we could demonstrate that.”

The poll came about after discussions with West Norfolk council’s chief executive Ray Harding.

JOHN DOBSON was leader of West Norfolk council before Nick Daubney. The retired colonel soon became a thorn in the side of the pro-incinerator lobby within what was originally the county council’s ruling conservative group.

Incensed that the people had been ignored, Mr Dobson refused to toe the party line throughout the five-year battle.

He was one of the six councillors who tabled the motion to terminate the incinerator contract, who walked out of County Hall victorious on Monday.

ALEXANDRA KEMP is about as far from John Dobson, politically, as it’s possible to get. Elected to the council on an anti-incinerator platform last May, she parted company with its Labour group when she refused to back the U-turn it performed in support of the project.

Ms Kemp is an accomplished speaker, who called out again and again for her community to be heard.

She claimed South Lynn had spent generations exposed to air pollution when the long-defunct fertiliser factory, know locally as The Muckworks, was in operation.

On Monday, she asked Norfolk to vote in support South Lynn. And most of Norfolk did.

TIM EAST led the campaign against the Costessey incinerator, near Norwich, where another community rose up and successfully said no. The experienced, canny advocate supported the campaign against the Lynn burner both in the council chamber and outside.

MP HENRY BELLINGHAM raised the issue with ministers and lobbied central government to see the downsides of the incinerator contract Norfolk had become embroiled in.

He now hopes go to central government, asking for help towards the £30m costs of getting out of it.

Council leader George Nobbs has blamed him for the withdrawl of £169m in so-called waste credits, which were to have bankrolled the project.

ERIC PICKLES might not have had a KLWIN membership card but many see the Communities Secretary as the most important anti-incinerator campaigner of them all. His delay in deciding whether or not to award the project planning permission effectively dragged things out until the incinerator was no longer financially viable.

If there is someone you know who played a part in the campaign and whose efforts should be highlighted tell us about them in the comments section below.

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