Norfolk left counting the cost as incinerator plans go up in smoke

Monday sees a crucial vote, which could see the incinerator cancelled. Monday sees a crucial vote, which could see the incinerator cancelled.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014
10:02 AM

Norfolk taxpayers are today counting the £35.8m cost of years of bitter controversy over a proposed incinerator which did immeasurable harm to the county council’s reputation but left it still looking for a long-term answer to the county’s waste.

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The proposed incinerator site at Saddlebow. Picture: Ian Burt.The proposed incinerator site at Saddlebow. Picture: Ian Burt.

The bill for years spent on controversial plans for the proposed King’s Lynn incinerator is expected to total about £91 per household.

In a shock U-turn, council officers will ask councillors to next Monday terminate the contract with Cory Wheelabrator because of continuing uncertainty about when the communities secretary would decide whether to ratify planning permission.

Campaigners celebrate after David vs Goliath battle against incinerator

Time for an inquiry?

The saga over the soon-to-be cancelled King’s Lynn incinerator has cost millions of pounds for little benefit, but council leader George Nobbs, has ruled out an inquiry into what went wrong.

He said a QC and an independent financial expert had already looked into the saga, and he added: “Their conclusion was that officers did all the right things, so I think to regurgitate it yet again is throwing good money after bad. There is not any evidence that any officer acted on anything other than what he thought was the best interest.”

He said the previous Conservative administration had made “no provision whatsoever” either to pay compensation in the event of planning permission failing, and added: “If I were to call for the resignation of the person who had signed the contract he is no longer leader of the council, so that’s pointless.”

Bill Borrett, who signed the contract, said: “I’m not a lawyer. I’m a councillor and we have to act on the advice we receive from officers, without which no council would be able to agree any detailed contract.”

He said that council officers had “very expensive lawyers and all sorts of experts” during the process.

Responding to Mr Nobbs’s claim that communities secretary Eric Pickles was to blame for the decision to terminate the contract, Mr Borrett said it was too early to say, and he did not know if this was usual or unusual.

Instead of incriminations, Mr Nobbs called on the county to move forward.

He said: “This whole issue has been, and will continue to be, very costly in terms of money for Norfolk.

“Let us ensure that the cost is not added to by a lingering sense of bitterness and division. It is time now for the people of Norfolk to put this behind us and face the future together.”

“If anybody had tried to talk to me about it, I would have reported them to the permanent secretary.” - Eric Pickles on accusations the delay to King’s Lynn incinerator planning decision was political

Council leader George Nobbs said: “In October, when council voted for continuation of the contract, that was on the basis that it still represented good value for money. However, that was based upon accepting the secretary of state at his word when he said he would give his decision on the planning inquiry ‘on or before January 14’.

“Mr Pickles’ decision – or rather the lack of it – has been the real game changer.”

The recommendation to cancel the contract now will cost the council an estimated £20.3m in compensation to Cory Wheelabrator, a figure which would have risen to about £25m if it was terminated after May 1.

Council officers said compensation would then have risen by £400,000 a month.

In addition, the council has to pay £8m for hedging exchange rates, and £2m towards the cost of a public enquiry.

The council estimated it has already spent £3.5m procuring the contract, and £2m buying the site.

Mr Nobbs laid the blame for the project’s demise firmly at Mr Pickles’ door, and said he felt “as if the council has been actively sabotaged by the government”.

Last October, councillors voted to continue with the project by a two-vote majority, amid warnings that the council could be bankrupted by compensation which would become payable within days.

Since then, the council has included a £19m reserve in its 2014-15 budget to help pay any compensation. In the short term, the remaining £11m will come from general reserves, but this will be replenished with £3m from an underspend in 2013-14, and £8m from savings during the year.

Mr Nobbs called for MPs who had said the government would help the council financially if it ended the contract “to put the government’s money where their mouths have so frequently been”.

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said: “I can’t promise, but I’m going to mobilise all the Norfolk MPs and I will see if indeed they have to pay the full penalty, which indeed is a big if, or whether it can be capitalised into a loan over 20-odd years and whether the government might find other ways of helping.”

Next Monday’s extraordinary council meeting was triggered by a cross-party group of six councillors, who asked the council to consider whether it should press ahead with the project in light of the secretary of state’s delay.

One of them, Tim East, said: “I’m delighted with the cancellation of the contract. Now we are able to promote a more environmentally-friendly way of disposing of our waste, simply because we have had the foresight to set aside a cancellation fee of £19m.”

Conservative opposition leader Bill Borrett, who signed the contract when his party controlled the council, said he had supported it if it was value for money, and he would now study the latest report.

As well as facing opposition from 65,000 people in a 2011 ballot held by West Norfolk Council, the anticipated financial savings of the incinerator have fallen dramatically since the contract was first signed.

It was originally expected to save Norfolk taxpayers about £250m over 25 years, a figure which is now put at just £12m over 23 years because of delays which increased the contract price, and the government’s decision last October to withdraw a grant worth £169m.

Should councillors bin the burner? Email martin.george@archant.co.uk

47 comments

  • That'll be 'Plan C' by NCC. Very funny - they think that they are going to be entering into an agreement with Suffolk and yet, they about to fall into the same trap that they found themselves in for both 'A' and 'B'. Can you guess what it is, or would you like me to help you again?

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    User Removed

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • God bless Eric Pickles!

    Report this comment

    Barking

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Seemingly nobody lived in Kings Lynn when the sugar beet factory stood on the same site. Meanwhile passengers between Norwich and London watch the daily progress with Suffolk's plant, which has already arranged to use the heat to bring extra employment. Let's hope they quote a whacking price to take Norfolk's waste and sympathise with residents on the A140, A134, A1088 and A12 as our waste lorries add to their problems.

    Report this comment

    Gerald Brown

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Absolutely ridiculous!! Why are we the people of Norfolk paying a cancellation fee!! Perhaps some of those who proposed this are actually involved with the construction companies!!! Oh did someone say that out loud!! It's time you the people of Norfolk stood up to this and all the other local councils squandering your money..!!!!

    Report this comment

    marshall

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Somone please tell me that this report was published on the wrong day ?

    Report this comment

    "V"

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • LLegend: this is a massive loss for EVERYONE. You are in denial if you think that £35million doesn't matter .. and of course the protestorsobjectors have short-sightedly contributed to that.

    Report this comment

    Patrick

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Peter - who was it who campaigned at the Council elections on a platform of getting rid of the incinerator, then immediately did a u-turn and supported it?

    Report this comment

    So_Many_Haters!

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • GNobbs has ruled out an inquiry? I don't think it's up to you old pal, the reasons for your u-turn is one of the very things that need investigating, kerching. None of you lot can remain in County Hall, this won't be over until a new broom has swept the place clean.

    Report this comment

    Honest John

    Wednesday, April 2, 2014

  • The councillors who went ahead(ish) with this scheme were elected, but do they believe they had a mandate to lumber the taxpayers - you and me - with astronomical cancellation fees. Why would anyone with half an ounce of brain matter agree to and sign a contract on those terms? As skyhookcoffee says anyone running a business like that would be OUT OF business. Let's not allow them to hide behind 'corporate' responsibility - they have shown NO responsibility. And what is next: NDR? Postwick hub? Stop them now. Power corrupts ...

    Report this comment

    Patrick

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Steady On, this story isn't 'going away' anytime soon. Thanks to Messrs Borrett and his Tory cronies Norfolk County Council will not be far off bankruptcy, the cost of this farce will be borne by the users of council services and by all us council tax payers for many years to come.

    Report this comment

    Bruce87

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • This is a massive blow to my plans to create real life X-Men in Kings Lynn, oh well Nuclear Power Plant is on the cards now. And this news is an April Fools.

    Report this comment

    Piranha24

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Suggest we just bury the Nimby's in waste now, turn Norfolk into large landfill area as Suffolk rubs its hands over themoney they can now charge Norfolk. Might be handy, could possible spend that money to build me a third crossing in Lowestoft

    Report this comment

    DaveG

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Private Eye have quite rightly claimed elected councillors were bullied by the planners, who have since left. Can the EDP confirm this is correct?

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    HappisburghHarry

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Labour have never been honest, they do not know the meaning of the word.

    Report this comment

    Sweet cheeks

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • @so_many_haters.A remarkable journey,I'll grant you but, it looks from George Nobbs' comments,Labour have gone honest and are back on the straight and narrow.I think you could call it "double revisionism",to end up at the place they started.That does not get away from the fact it was the previous Tory administration who fatally signed this contact,despite massive public opposition.£30 million plus to be paid one way or another by us is the legacy left by Norfolk's Tories.

    Report this comment

    Peter Watson

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • If K.nobbs is so wonderful why did he U turn? Why did he promise the voter then change his mind? This could of been stopped last year. I think the County Tories think they are above everybody else as there own party went against them so perhaps they should all resign.

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    Sweet cheeks

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Spot on Mr Wallis. I suspect that the Edp were tipped the wink about the officers report hense the strong editorial calling for an end to the saga for the good of Norfolk. What a different story it could have been if they had campaigned to stop it years ago after reams of evidence was shown to Peter Waters during private meetings with various individuals including me!

    Report this comment

    Canary Boy

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • How is it possible that a private company will be paid over £20 million for doing nothing? It is scandulous that such payments are agreed . Who signs these contracts which throws taxpayers money away? At the time of such stringent cuts to services it is beyond belief. The people who actually signed the contract should be exposed and brought forward to face the public.

    Report this comment

    norman hall

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • The real losers here are the EDP. They literally have a whole news section dedicated to the incinerator, on a par with "Education" and "Crime" so if it's going away they are going to have to go back to reporting about pigs escaping from their paddocks and such again.

    Report this comment

    Steady On

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Nice try Di.cky but you know as well as I do that Cabinet will over-ride whatever the vote is because to carry on would signal a massive vote of no confidence in their Officers. Why do you think they haven't done it before??

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    User Removed

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • If it had of gone through it would of cost the tax payer an awful lot more, perhaps we should find out who signed the contract and challenge them as this thing has been underhanded since the start. Don't blame the Tories or Labour go after the individuals including the officers.

    Report this comment

    Sweet cheeks

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • The only thing scarier than our inability as a country to confront and tackle issues is the literal corruption of every member of political office. There is not one redeeming political figure anywhere in this land, what a catch 22!

    Report this comment

    Steady On

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Look a little more broadly and tell us how similar will be the handling of the Northern Distributor Road ... Postwick hub .. The councillors should remember that they are there courtesy of the taxpayer - they have been trusted and look at the result!!

    Report this comment

    Patrick

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • MPs only opposed this after NCC had made the decision which was negligence on their part. The previous Tory administration made the decision without sufficient scrutiny, which summed up the way they preferred to work. Officers have given advice that has been vindicated by external scrutiny and have demonstrated this advice changes only when circumstances change. The ones questioning their positions are Norfolk MPs and Tory County Councillors who still collectively support Bill Borrett as leader. If they keep him after this, shame on them

    Report this comment

    Jonny

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Borrett and Murphy should be held accountable for this - they were so confident that this would be waved through the planning process that they stupidly signed the contract beforehand and didn't even make contingency plans in case it defaulted because of a possible call-in. Stunningly arrogant - it is they that have landed Norfolk's residents with such a huge bill, no-one else.

    Report this comment

    User Removed

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Few people will come out of this fiasco with any credit, particularly the 'Anti' group and the Green Party. The idea of sending lorry-loads of rubbish to Lincolnshire and South Suffolk is clearly ridiculous

    Report this comment

    blue tractor

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • well said Martin Wallis, if anything is to change to the better, heads must roll. If there is anything everyone paying taxes understands is that if you have no planning permission, you should not go ahead, head down and regardless of the consequences. Officers ignored their own rules and no sound was heard from NPLaw, fully supporting such course. We paid 4 million on being 'consulted' wrongly, so should we now claim our money back from them, surely, black listing them with regards to future contracts is not enough. Will we see cllrs. praising democracy for this next Monday? not that they applied much scrutiny to the previous administrations sole decision making, bar some who tried their best to raise the issue. Party politics have failed Norfolk, more than once, and officers colluded in party political aims and objectives, without having to stand accountable to bad decision making. The new Chief executive taking up her job will have to tackle these deficiencies with some urgency to restore trust in NCC. Party politicians should hang their head in shame and those who were responsible for signing this contract canshould be expected to step down for this aweful episode in Norfolks history.

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Saturday, April 5, 2014

  • Either something corrupt took place, or councillors (and officers) were aware throughout of the draconian penalty payments associated with this project. It was always going to be the perfect get out when it was challenged by antis ie we can`t afford it to be cancelled.

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    democrat

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Norfolk must never forget it was a Conservative leadership,with a massive majority,who signed us up to this contract,and so has left this enormous Tory legacy of a debt of £30 million.Never again will the Tories be able to claim they are the prudent stewards of the county's finances.

    Report this comment

    Peter Watson

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Hilarious to see all the East Norfolk NIMBYS coming out of the woodwork. If they'd have put their money where their mouth was and came out to support the incinerator maybe it wouldn't have been defeated like this?! This truly is massive victory for Democracy, and a massive victory for West Norfolk! Hurrah!

    Report this comment

    LynnLegend

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • How lovely to see the bewigged leader of Suffolk CC come to the aid of Nobbs in his time of need by offering capacity in his own underused incinerator at Gt Blakenham. We didn't see that coming at all George - nice to see you're still bending over and taking one for the team from the Tories!!

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    User Removed

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Theanchovy I agree but it should have beenthe responsibilty of those signing to make sure.They could have asked and asked again. Borrett is already making excuses quote" I am not a lawyer."Penalty clauses should surely have rung alarm bells.

    Report this comment

    Norfolkman

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Sweet cheeks: NOT 'had of' nor 'would of' ..

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    Patrick

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Surely there is a plan B? Isn't there. Surely before the incinerator option was chosen, other alternatives were looked at - Anaerobic digestion, Mechanical Biological Treatment, zero waste. Weren't they? I believe there was a resume of the options at the time the Costessey incinerator was mooted. Perhaps that could be dusted off and updated to assist those at County Hall who seem incapable of seeing beyond mass burn. Good riddance to the incinerator. I wouldn't want it anywhere in the County, or indeed even in Suffolk. It is a dirty, dangerous technique, leaving behind toxic bottom and fly ash and emitting long lasting dioxins and furans. We are suffering pollution episodes in Norfolk at the moment from trans-boundary pollution without creating it on our own doorstep. . As for blaming those who opposed this white elephant, that is pure non-sense. It is those who approved it in the first place that are to blame.

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    norfolkngood

    Thursday, April 3, 2014

  • Why have the same officers at the tail end of 2013 made an absolute U turn on policy?? What part did Ms Truss's play in the loss of the credits....?

    Report this comment

    Andy T

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Well said Martin Wallis. Unfortunately, investigative journalism requires effort, copying press releases doesn't, so don't hold your breath. I praised the EDP when they finally made a stance because it was one in the eye for those commenters who kept saying it was a mouthpiece for NCC. Now, I'm regretting it. The EDP needs to start asking hard questions so that we don't go through this fiasco again.

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    Sugarbeet

    Wednesday, April 2, 2014

  • It is ridiculous that this NCC cannot run itself 1st the wasteful amount spent on Coltishall with no business plan spending millions and now the incinerator with yet another 60 million down the tube. These councillors should be brought to task. If I ran my business like that, I would not have one ! ! !

    Report this comment

    Skyhookcoffee

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • As opposed to all the lorries using the A47, A148, A134 and A10? And you want Suffolk to take advantage of Norfolk waste, causing your council tax to rise even further?

    Report this comment

    So_Many_Haters!

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Ah, the hunt for the guilty parties and the assumption that someone else should pay. It may have escaped some peoples' notice, but we live in a democracy where we elect officials, good or bad, to make big decisions on our behalf. Like it or lump it, elected officials were the ones that made the errors of judgement in agreeing to the advice they were being given by their un-elected advisors and experts (employees). It is probably the advisors and experts who should be given their marching orders by the elected officials as their expert advice has clearly been found to be wrong. We the public will have the opportunity to give the elected officials their marching orders, if you feel they have made errors of judgement, the next time there is an election. That's how it works. There is no justification of placing the blame at the doors of either the anti or pro brigade, who are simply members of the public expressing their (sometimes passionately held) beliefs and they have an inalienable right to do so. It's what makes Britain Great (and that includes Scotland too, but don't get me started on that one). Happy 1st April

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    BernardJuby

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • "We will be watching" thundered the EDP leader when the Tories finally lost power at County Hall to the Rainbow Coalition. Quite right too. The EDP has been crystal clear that it prizes beyond measure its inalienable right to hold politicians (and public officials) to account. And now's the time to walk the walk. "Leader rules out inquiry into saga" according to council leader George Nobbs (EDP Tuesday April 1 2014 p4). Well that's the opinion of Mr Nobbs, who was elected by less than half (49%, a massive 1061 voices) of those who voted in Crome (29.55% turnout) at the last local elections. He is entitled to his opinion. And Norfolk council taxpayers are entitled to a full explanation of what went wrong, whether Mr Nobbs likes it or not. Once in office, Mr Nobbs executed a 180 degrees U-turn on his manifesto pledge to oppose the burner: he is in no position to stake out the moral high ground here... It's time for the guardian of the interests of Norfolk to step in... ... Enter, stage right, the Eastern Daily Press. Just before the meeting which voted by a wafer-thin 2 votes to proceed with the burner, the EDP leader (Now is the time to draw line under the incinerator saga) came out finally against the burner, having sat on the fence for ten years. Better late than never: "There are lessons to be learned and there is much soul-searching to be done about how we got into this situation" Amen to that. Now we have "It is high time to end this sorrowful and damaging saga" (leader Saturday March 29 2014). A remarkably prescient piece of journalism...: "... in time there must be an inquest into how and why we got into this mess". Amen to that. And finally, today we have "It's time to draw a line through incinerator and put an end to this costly mistake". A line through, a line under... but no reprise of the call for 'an inquest into how and why we got into this mess'. In the space of just 3 days, the appetite for getting to the bottom of this ten year story seems to have evaporated. Criticism is now focussed on Eric Pickles, who is being scapegoated for dragging his heels over whether or not to nod the project through. Far be it from me to spring to the defence of the unlovely Mr Pickles, but surely the primary culprits in this tale of woe are to be found not in Westminster but in County Hall. The previous Tory administration. And it is the duty and the privilege of East Anglia's only daily newspaper of record to root out the truth here. May I remind readers of what Nigel Pickover, editor-in-chief, wrote in May of last year in the heat of the debate around the Leveson report? "Politicians must accept this compromise solution (Ipsa) or they will be culpable in threatening not least a regional press which millions of people rely upon for news that is clear, truthful and unhindered by vested interests " (EDP Thursday May 2 2013 p14 NEWS). Need I say more? This is all about the vested interests and the defence of democratic accountability and transparency of which Mr Pickover wrote so passionately...

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    martin wallis

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • In my opinion the objectors should pay, why should I have to for their benefit?

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    KeithS

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • NCC should have applied for out-line planning permission before purchasing the land to test reaction knowing incinerators near residential areas is controversial. Cory Wheelabrator must be glad this fiasco is almost over and as a goodwill gesture a reduction in the penalty clause would be the smart move and come up smelling of roses. NCC would benefit by selling off the proposed incinerator site for housing or industry and the rate payers would benefit.

    Report this comment

    NCIS

    Wednesday, April 2, 2014

  • Norfolkman Surely there is a case for negligence against the legal people.

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    theanchovy

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Who were the fools who signed up to this contract.Perhaps they will pay the penalty charges they walked into. Surely this must rate as gross incompetence. Or it it a case of I will sign it but I do not accept responsibility.

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    Norfolkman

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • Of course the objectors should pay. The vote on it is next week though so perhaps we should wait and see which way the vote goes. We should keep it and wait a month longer rather than pay out a fortune for nothing and still have the same problem.

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    Mrs Willingale

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • "Don't blame the Tories or Labour go after the individuals including the officers" says sweet cheeks before criticising Labour and George Nobbs. Brilliant.

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    Jeffrey Osborne

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • The councillors and officers who authorised and voted for this must be made personally liable for the £35 million. £8 million for playing with exchange rates??? who gave them the authority for that?

    Report this comment

    IT Man

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

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