Should the Norfolk incinerator be scrapped? Two leading councillors give their views

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

Saturday, October 26, 2013
6:30 AM

The future of the controversial incinerator proposed for King’s Lynn will be debated by the full council at Norfolk County Council on Monday.
Councillors will vote on a recommendation to put to the controlling cabinet over whether to approve a revised project plan for the plant - or whether to reject it.

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Rejecting it would break the contract and would trigger compensation, with council officers warning that will have grave repercussions and could lead to further service cuts.

Here, Toby Coke, UKIP group leader and David Harrison, Liberal Democrat and cabinet member for environment, transport, development and waste, explain their views on the choice before them.

David Harrison:

The momentous decision by Norfolk County Council’s cabinet in March 2011 to authorise the signing of a legally binding contract for an energy from waste plant in King’s Lynn carried with it serious consequences.

Just how serious is laid bare in an independent report from PWC – handpicked by opponents of The Willows scheme - which puts the cost to the council of terminating the contract between £24.7m and, at worst, over £100m.

I am not a massive fan of incineration – and I voted against the proposal at our planning committee – but for an authority strugging to find savings of £189m over three years, the consequences of pulling out of the contract are clearly ruinous.

The figure hanging over us would be around £20 to 30m. It’s a crippling sum, in the region of what it costs to run our entire Fire and Rescue Service for a year.

Much loved and neeed services would have to be slashed, council workers would lose their jobs, and services to the public devastated.

I’ve seen various figures bandied around about how we could somehow find these sums from reserves, but we simply don’t have that sort of money squirreled away.

Abandoning the contract would spark payment of £20 to 30m within weeks of a decision to terminate, effectively bankrupting the council.

I’ve seen suggestions that the government will ride to our rescue, but this is the stuff of fantasy, given the disgraceful decision by DEFRA to withdraw a grant for the project worth £169m.

This means that the huge future savings which The Willows would have produced have now been denied to Norfolk residents. Cuts will now have to be made elsewhere.

Even without the waste infrastructure grant the project still offers good value for money. Compare that to the financial armageddon we face if the revised project plan is rejected.

I already know to my cost that the government is not offering any financial help, merely words of advice. To pretend otherwise is only offering false hope.

Meanwhile, West Norfolk Borough Council’s much heralded alternative of turning rubbish into plastic fence posts has not materialised.

I am very sorry that only on Monday will the full council meet for the first time to debate the merits of a project which has caused sincerely held concern.

I’m grateful to Toby Coke of UKIP for finally helping to make it happen and look forward to a constructive discussion ahead of the cabinet decision on Tuesday.

This grave situation is not of the making of the current Labour/Liberal Democrat administration, which is juggling huge cuts in government grant with an urgent need to improve children’s services.

We politicians now need to do what’s right for Norfolk.

I look forward to a reasoned debate on Monday, but the reality is that cabinet will have precious little room for manoeuvre when it comes to take its decision 24 hours later.

If the revised project plan is agreed on Tuesday, the final decision will then rest with the Secretary of State Eric Pickles, which is what many people have been asking for all along.

Toby Coke:

If rejected the compensation payable (prior to any form of negotiation) is exactly the same as if the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government turns down planning permission for the project. It is capped at £20.3m plus approximately £5m of foreign exchange hedging losses.

Following the withdrawal of the Waste Infrastructure Credits (WIC) by DEFRA on October 18, it is now almost certain that the Secretary of State will turn down planning permission for the incinerator on or before January 14, 2014 on the basis that there is no national or local need for the Saddlebow incinerator, as EU landfill targets are and will be met without it.

There are other far cheaper options available, as clearly demonstrated in a report, published by Dr Chris Edwards, senior fellow of the UEA and a further report by Eunomia Research and Consulting validating Dr Edwards’s report. “Need”, at both national and local level is one of the main requirements for planning consent for projects of this kind.

It is, therefore, sensible for NCC to face the short term uncertainties now, rather than kick the can down the road a few months, only to face the same dilemma again.

Action that must be taken immediately following a successful debate to reject the revised project plan, which should have already been taken by the council, is to seek Treasury permission to capitalise the compensation, rather than it coming out of revenue.

This is only granted in exceptional circumstances, such as natural disasters or events completely out of the council’s control. The main reason for this is that any local government borrowing is added to the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement.

However, the government has withdrawn the incinerator’s subsidy, rightly so in my view, as in effect they would be borrowing £169m over 25 years to subsidise an otherwise totally uneconomic project and some of Norfolk’s MPs, notably Henry Bellingham, Norman Lamb and Elizabeth Truss have publicly stated they will lobby the Treasury to help Norfolk out of its predicament, but NCC has to help itself by instigating the requests.

NCC should be asking for permission to capitalise the compensation payment. If this is granted the £25m could be repaid over 20 years at 5pc interest. Depending how the loan was set up, the initial costs out of revenue would be £1.25m in both interest and capital repayment per annum. This £2.5m would be more than accounted for by cancelling the CW contract and switching to exporting our waste to Amsterdam.

Dr Edwards’s report states that there would be a saving to NCC of £83m over the 25 year life of the contract or £3.3m per year, after taking into account the £25m compensation, loss of energy income and the loss of the £169m subsidy.

Incinerator over capacity in Northern Europe and the US has led to both plant closures and falling gate prices. This, together with increased recycling taking more and more out of the waste stream, it is becoming increasingly obvious that tying Norfolk taxpayers into a 25 year fixed tonnage contract is a very bad deal indeed. This is before taking into account the estimated £165m of pollution costs, in the form of particulates, dioxins and related chemicals which would affect the lives of many of the people of West Norfolk.

Various reports were published on Tuesday evening by NCC, including two by the Interim Head of Finance. One of these entitled “Comparison of the Financial Outcomes of the Existing and Alternative Waste Disposal Proposals” is so factually wrong as to be meaningless. As far as I am aware he never bothered to contact either Dr Edwards or myself to verify what he was saying was correct. In another, blood curling statements about imminent NCC bankruptcy, although technically correct are purely designed to intimidate members into voting for the status quo. Unsurprisingly there were no suggestions as to possible ways forward should members vote to reject the RPP. I wonder why?

It must not be forgotten that 65,000 people in West Norfolk voted against the incinerator in a referendum held by West Norfolk Council in February 2011. This was totally ignored by NCC. Instead a telephone survey involving 1700 people throughout Norfolk, commissioned by CW and undertaken by COMRES, in which the questions asked of respondents were skewed to obtain the desired result and used by NCC in their submission to government to show “consensus” in order to obtain the £169m subsidy.

It is tragic that the democratic decision was ignored in the first place and even more tragic that democracy, for the first time ever, has a short term price tag of £25m.

Now is surely the time that all parties must come together, put aside political differences and recriminations and put an end to this affront to democracy.

In short, NCC cannot afford NOT to cancel this contract.

32 comments

  • All this talk about about the cost of rejecting the proposal completely ignores the long term costs should the incinerator be built. The financial costs will be far greater and last far longer than the 25 years touted, and the environmental and health effects will last even longer. The Councillors who pushed this dreadful incinerator on us, and who signed this contract in the full knowledge of the potential consequences should the project not go ahead, should be called to answer for their actions.

    Report this comment

    norfolkngood

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Of course a 'YES' vote on Monday is entirely probable; the true ‘cost’ would crystallise if Cory goes running to a judge following a ‘NO’ and the sordid details of corruption and incompetence by councillors and officers alike were to be finally revealed. £26 mil to keep a lid on that lot is a bargain.

    Report this comment

    Mr Cameron Isaliar

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Has anyone actually proved that this project will be a health risk. Might be ugly, might issue some fumes from tall stack but will give employment in an area that needs. I remember all the fuss about the Bury St Edmunds beet processing plant. All now in the past and forgotten about.

    Report this comment

    MIKEJ

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Thank goodness we have Toby Coke. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. As for that Nobbs and his crew, did you know they had a dinner last night so the Labour party could pat themselves on the back that they are "in charge" of the County Council. Got news for you boys and girls. When you've finished warbling the Red Flag, you are not in charge. The Lib Dems on cabinet will be most interested to hear what you believe. The Tories still have the largest party (albeit a ghastly bunch) and the only way a non Tory administration can function is with the cooperation of ALL the non Tory parties. And in any event, without Top Man Toby, the employees run the council and you just get to nod furiously when ordered. I have never seen such a dismal cabinet performance, ever, and Norfolk has had some pretty bad examples in all the councils.

    Report this comment

    alecto

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • I say, rather excessive weighting given to the Tobester's opinion by you hacks, I mean, he hasn't beaten old Bellers yet you know. Try showing a little more respect, what-ho.

    Report this comment

    Mr Cameron Isaliar

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Who agreed to a contract that allows for SO MUCH compensation before it was agreed that we wantneed an incinerator? Probably someone who will be paid off with a huge pension and tarnished golden handshake ... Stand up and be fired (at).

    Report this comment

    Patrick

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • This poll by ComRes is interesting, is there any proof of this, surely this could be investigated. Fiddling polling figures is an offence perhaps we should bring in the international electoral observer team at Monday's council meeting = is this really happening in Norfolk- is this why D Grimmer went to the T&C recently. Can we expect to see a group of islanders there on Monday to monitor the voting habits of these councillors.

    Report this comment

    maryjane

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Raj Patel what tree did you fall out off? You really do not know what you are talking about

    Report this comment

    Sweet cheeks

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • If councillors vote for the revised plan they will be voting for the big white elephant to be built nearest to point that has the most waste. Norwich would be the ideal position for a waste incinerator. Building it in Norwich would save millions of pounds than carting it to a county at the furthest point is stupid and a waste of taxpayers money. George Nobbs is fooling you all. he may think it will go ahead in King's Lynn but there is no way Eric Pickles would allow wasting taxpayer money carting waste to a county, especially when that county would be recycling all black bin waste. I personally would not like to see it built anywhere in Norfolk recycling is the best option. George Nobbs said use your vote wisely, I certainly will be doing just that at election time and I won't be voting for George Nobbs.

    Report this comment

    Jack

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • The way the numbers stack up for Monday's vote looks bad for those of us against icineration,unless there is a change of heart from quite a few of the 40-strong Tory group.At any rate the council Leader's statements indicate the Cabinet would ignore the vote-so much for the democracy of Cabinet government.More interesting,and concerning,is what the possible fall-out from such a scenario could lead to.The current administration relies on Ukip largely sitting on their hands in a loose sort of anti-Tory majority.Should the outcome be Ukip no longer supports the arrangement,then,because of the numbers it could end up we are back with the Tories in charge,backed by Ukip,the Tories' natural ideological allies.This would be very bad news indeed for Norfolk residents as they would approach the cuts process with an ideological zealotry that has no understanding of ordinary people.The Rainbow would be replaced with very dark clouds.

    Report this comment

    Peter Watson

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Build it and let the rubbish come from other counties which was the plan in the first place, bring in rubbish from Cambridge from their bioprocessing plant that wont bio process everything bring in rubbish from Lincolnshire and Northants. make some money for the county out of it. My only worry is that as well as signing a contract with high pull out penalties, the council has not seen that Cory will face equal penalties if they do not operate the incinerator safely. Any repercussions in respect of the conduct of the council in commissioning the actual installation , the contract etc should be looked at separately from the act of a democratically elected county council deciding that an incinerator was needed at the time they made the decision.

    Report this comment

    Daisy Roots

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • I know of at least one councillor who is considering becoming independent if the vote for the incinerator is positive. Equally the Tory councillor in my area will be attending the meeting on Monday and will be voting against. At least that`s the answer he emailed to me. I shall personally make sure that all in his area are aware that his word is not his bond if he reneges on this promise. I`ve still got the feeling that there will be a sting in the tail.

    Report this comment

    democrat

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Toby Coke I applaud you and you are 100% correct, you have correctly read the letter from DEFRA and you know whats coming. David Harrison will you wake up man and stop believing everything tbe officers tell you, the fact s are wrong and the council can NOT go bankrupt or are you sayinv they are insolvent now??

    Report this comment

    Sweet cheeks

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • David Harrison is thinking with his head not his heart and his reasoning is sound.

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    blue tractor

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • I hope that our councillors vote to recover trust, vote for more oipen and representative realtionships with voters, that they vote for their own right to debate such issues and not be neutered by some cabinet dictators and aspiring officiers. Reject the RPP and hold those responsible that have diverted the agenda to benefit unsuitable companies and lambast us with the most expensive option. That voters had to scrutinise this project, that cllrs. were unable to do so, does not say very much about party politics, apart from, its stinks.

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • David Harrison has a reputation of being the fastest speed reader on the Council - pity he overlooked the most vital bits of the document.

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    maryjane

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Ooh personal injury claims Kennybunkport. Especially the class actions that will no doubt ensue. You are going to be busy aren't you?! If I were Nobbsie and his gang I would take very close notice of your post.

    Report this comment

    alecto

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Well said Toby. Why is this man not leading the council instead of the other fool who is so blinkered and refuses to look for ways NCC could get out of this and move forward.

    Report this comment

    Bikerboy

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Kenny Bunkport, FOI requests show the HPA study to be nothing more than a sham, first discussed over 5 years ago, proceeding slower than a snail, with a PhD student doing the work to save money. Admitting the truth would open a can of worms in the form of compensation claims, therefore it will be denied for as long as possible, just like the tens of thousands of people who continued to work with asbestos, because of their delay in admitting its dangers to health. With all the other distasteful things being covered up, these departments should be on the receiving end of claims for covert genocide.

    Report this comment

    Honest John

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Daisy has touched on an another issue. The Health Protection Agency is currently funding a new study into the effects of emissions from modern Municipal Waste Incinerators and in particular, low birth weights, still births, infant deaths and congenital abnormalities such as spina bifida and cleft palate. The preliminary results on research from Imperial College and King's College are due in March next year. Any linkage that is established is obviously going to stop the KL project in its tracks unless the parties really wish to be faced with massive legal claims from affected residents in W. Norfolk in years to come. The costs to Norfolk of pulling the plug at that stage will be at the top end of the estimates given so far if not more.

    Report this comment

    Kenny Bunkport

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • There are more important issues than money here. If this thing is built people with existing respiratory conditions will die. What value would you place on a life Mr Harrison?

    Report this comment

    LynnLegend

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • God help us if we have reached the point where David Harrison is referred to as "one of our leading councillors"

    Report this comment

    arfur

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Without the earnings for Cory from the 98,000 tonnes of Commercial and Industrial waste the true cost of dealing with the biodegradable waste would be higher. Therefore the savings touted would not be so great after all. Yet another indemnity clause for the signatories in the report, and we know who they will be.

    Report this comment

    bedoomed

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • There is light at the end of the tunnel. Toby Cokes rationale trumps by a country mile the craven and pathetic performance of George Nobbs on Look East last night. As a floatijg voter I concur with the notion that all prejudiced spin and nonsense should be put aside and a fully formed decision be taken based on proper information rather than the insulting puerile toshoffered so far.Why is Toby Coke not leading the Council?

    Report this comment

    guella

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • I urge all councillors to vote against this abomination, especially those who pledged so to do in the May elections.

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    The man on the Clapham Omnibus

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Are David Harrison and Cllr Monsoon one and the same person? They spout enough rubbish to be.

    Report this comment

    alecto

    Sunday, October 27, 2013

  • What a stitch up and the charlatans within the council are still at it.

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    John L Norton

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Blue tractor, I would question whether Harrison’s decision is sound. The decision to sign the contract may have been made by Cabinet in 2011 but it wasn’t signed until February 2012 - is he overlooking this or is he not quite in command of the facts – bit disturbing.

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    Honest John

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • The figure hanging over us would be around £20 to 30m. It’s a crippling sum. What absolute poppycock, we see that amount of money wasted every single year and more besides. Yet again the charlatans within the council are trying to further stitch people up with their scaremongering and lies.

    Report this comment

    John L Norton

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Take a look at page 14 of the Supplementary Agenda for Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, “Air Pollution Control residues are now to be used in a beneficial way rather than disposed of to hazardous waste landfill.” It claims “The Revised Project Plan is an improvement on the existing contract” because of this.

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    Honest John

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

  • Did anyone else hear the Cabinet Member for Waste on Radio Norfolk the other day? I quote : "It's not the most modern technology of all.... but we are where we are." More cranberry sauce while you're voting for Christmas, Cllr Harrison?

    Report this comment

    User Removed

    Sunday, October 27, 2013

  • Dear Reader -- how sad that David Harrison has had to change his mind over the incinerator - would it be anythi ng to do with the financial reward for being a cabinet member after all - back this or lose it?

    Report this comment

    maryjane

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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