The £35m bill for the axed Norfolk incinerator: Who is to blame?

Cory Wheelabrator's proposed incinerator at Saddlebow Cory Wheelabrator's proposed incinerator at Saddlebow

Tuesday, April 8, 2014
11:44 AM

Now that the incinerator has been ditched, costing taxpayers £35m, the question is: Who was responsible for Norfolk ending up in this mess?

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The scene at County Hall where the decision was announced to scrap the incinerator. Photo: Bill SmithThe scene at County Hall where the decision was announced to scrap the incinerator. Photo: Bill Smith

If you listen to council leader George Nobbs, the chief culprit is communities secretary Eric Pickles.

Mr Nobbs said his delay in deciding whether the plant’s planning permission should go ahead, has meant the value for the money of the scheme has plummeted.

But that’s just one view.

Incinerator timeline

Public inquiry calls after plug finally pulled on Norfolk incinerator

There are others who argue the blame should rest variously with those officers who drew up the contract; with the councillors who agreed to award the contract; with those who decided to pursue incineration in the first place; with councillors who failed to scrap the incinerator sooner; with the government for withdrawing the waste infrastructure grant which would have helped pay for the plant or with MPs who lobbied the government to do so.

Here, we look at where the finger has been pointed:

Councillors - did elected members make a mistake in signing up for the burner?

Ultimately, the decisions over the incinerator have been made by county councillors. All have been taken after advice from officers.

As far as the contract goes, members of the then Conservative cabinet, who agreed to award it to Cory Wheelabrator in March 7, were:

Derrick Murphy, Bill Borrett, James Carswell, Harry Humphrey, Ian Mackie, Graham Plant, Ann Steward and Alison Thomas. David Harwood abstained.

At that meeting, a poll organised by West Norfolk Council, where 65,000 people said they did not want an incinerator, was rubbished by the cabinet as flawed.

However, critics suggest that their decision to award the contract was flawed – that the cabinet did not properly consider the risks of the £169m waste credits being lost if planning permission was

not obtained by June last year, and did not scrutinise the compensation clauses worked into the contract effectively enough.

Opponents branded the meeting where councillors agreed to award the contract “a pantomime”.

It sparked an attempt, led by campaigner Michael de Whalley, for a judicial review into the decision.

The court had heard that the March cabinet meeting was preceded by a Conservative group meeting of councillors, at which the party showed its “in principle support” for incineration.

Mr de Whalley claimed the Tory get-together meant the subsequent public meeting was “a sham” and “a stage pantomine”.

He argued the cabinet ignored a poll showing local objections and passed a “predetermined” decision. But the judge ruled this claim “unarguable”, finding Mr de Whalley had not shown that the councillors “fettered their discretion” or that their decision was one which “no reasonable authority could make”.

When the new Labour/Liberal Democrat administration formed in May last year, campaigners against the plant hoped for a fresh chance to bin the burner.

Labour’s manifesto had included a pledge to “use all legal means to suspend any plans for building any incinerators in Norfolk so that a detailed study of current, suitable methods of waste disposal can be undertaken”.

But, to the disappointment of campaigners, it quickly became clear the administration was not simply going to rip up the contract.

Mr Nobbs insists “the first thing” the new administration did was to seek legal advice on whether the council could withdraw from the contract and officers told them there was no easy way out.

But critics feel the spirit of that election manifesto pledge was not honoured. And the Conservatives argue yesterday’s ‘premature’ decision to scrap the contract was where the mistake was really made.

Officers - were they right to recommend the incinerator contract?

The signature on the contract is that of Joel Hull, Norfolk County Council project director, residual waste services. But the council is quick to stress the signing was “essentially an administrative task” after the cabinet had given approval.

Of more interest than whose signature is on the contract, is who drew it up. They were Mike Jackson (then the director of environment, transport and development), Victoria McNeill (head of law and monitoring officer), Harvey Bullen (corporate revenue manager), Mark Allen (assistant director, environment and waste, Paul Borrett (strategic waste manager) and the aforementioned Mr Hull.

The county council says there was additional support from other officers from environment, transport and development and the department of finance in the day-to-day delivery of the procurement process.

External advisers were Ernst and Young (finance), Sharpe Pritchard (legal), Marsh (insurance) and SKMEnviros (technical).

The council says the contract was developed and approved, throughout the entire process, by the government.

Many have questioned why the contract was agreed before planning permission was secured. The council’s explanation is that it was a requirement of the government’s waste infrastructure grant programme.

And there have been questions about why the contract has such compensation clauses and whether it was a standard contract.

The council has always insisted that it was – but acknowledged that in some parts the terms were not fully prescriptive.

The council said: “Cory Wheelabrator’s hybrid approach was recognised as being unusual, so HM Treasury and Defra gave it detailed consideration before they confirmed that the way it was addressed in the contract complied fully with their standard principles and requirements.”

An independent report by Jonathan Acton Davis, QC, last year concluded officers had followed proper procedures, but said he had “some difficulty” over whether officers had identified how to pay compensation should the plant not get planning permission.

He said he would have expected officers to have “at least considered” whether the council could pay that and identify the funds, but had found no evidence they had.

But, he said the officer explanation was that it had not been foreseen there might be a change of mind, that the risk of planning failure was low and that, before May last year, the council had sufficient reserves to pay compensation.

More recently, there was criticism of interim head of finance Peter Timmins, when, before the October vote, he warned the council could face bankruptcy if the contract was cancelled.

Information obtained from the Department for Communities and Local Government by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb cast doubt on that advice, some councillors argued, but Mr Timmins stood by his advice.

Defra - has the government department cost us dear?

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs awarded the county council waste infrastructure credits to bankroll the running of the plant. That was worth £169m during the plant’s lifetime.

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman agreed in January 2012 to award the contract, after being convinced there was a general consensus in Norfolk in favour of the plant – a claim which has long been disputed by opponents.

In October last year, the waste credits were withdrawn –because planning permission had not been awarded by a specified date. The county council argued that was unfair, given the reason the planning permission had not been granted was because of another government department – the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The announcement came just days before an extraordinary meeting of the full council, where the council voted, by 40 votes to 38, to press ahead with the incinerator.

Eric Pickles - damaging delay or complicated case?

Leader George Nobbs blames communities secretary Eric Pickles, pictured.

Following last year’s planning inquiry, Mr Pickles had been given a recommendation from a planning inspector and was due to decide whether to ratify planning permission.

The date of January 14, when his department said the decision would be made, came and went and the council says it has still not managed to get an indication of when he will make a decision.

Mr Nobbs said: “Mr Pickles’ decision – or rather the total lack of it – has been the real game changer, and has made a nonsense of government rhetoric about speedier decisions on major infrastructure projects.

“What has been even more damaging has been his subsequent point-blank refusal to give us any idea

of when, if ever, he might make a decision.”

But Mr Pickles has insisted he has been deliberating “without political favour” on what was a complicated case, while Conservative John Dobson said, at yesterday’s meeting, that the delays should not have come as a surprise, given Cory’s only waste plant in this country – at Bexleyheath – took 18 years from conception to opening, including 12 years to secure planning consent.

MPs - was lobbying justified or political manoeuvring?

Conservative MPs Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) and Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) have been among the most vociferous opponents of the plant. While anti-incinerator campaigners celebrated their involvement, their actions have been criticised by members of their own party.

Senior Conservatives Ian Monson, former cabinet member for environment and waste, and

Cliff Jordan, former cabinet member for efficiency, both sent emails criticising MPs after the government cancelled the £169m in waste credits.

Mr Monson emailed Ms Truss saying she and fellow MPs had “kicked the people of Norfolk in the teeth” with “the worst type of political manoeuvring”.

Mr Jordan’s email, sent to fellow Conservatives, called for the county’s Tory MPs to stand for re-selection. In it he wrote: “They’ve done a disservice to the Conservatives and Norfolk in general. It’s absolute treachery. There are a lot of real Conservatives really angry with them.”

And yesterday, Mick Castle, Labour cabinet member for schools, said the MPs had acted “despicably” in lobbying for the waste grants to be withdrawn.

46 comments

  • Tory fat cats are to blame, it's as simple as that. Warmest Regards, Whiley.

    Report this comment

    Whiley Boy

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Honest John, I am with Andy T on this one. Councillors (and MP's for that matter) are elected by the people to represent their views at local and national levels of government and I think that means making a choice to cast their vote on behalf of their electorate, in accordance with the wishes of that electorate. Being whipped to vote on party lines is not necessarily representing your electorate if the whipping instruction is not reflecting their views. Abstaining is just sitting on the fence and is also probably not representing your electorate - unless you know that your electorate is equally divided in opposite ways.

    Report this comment

    BernardJuby

    Thursday, April 10, 2014

  • Murphy and Borrett (in no particular order).

    Report this comment

    gilded beams

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Borrett & Murphy

    Report this comment

    Marigold

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Icelandic banks anybody? Borrat tells us he's not a lawyer. He's not a businessman either. Yesterday the council saved Norfolk a fortune in the long run. This problem started way back when the council ignored their own research that showed the vast majority of the population of Norfolk did not support incineration over alternative methods of recycling and using waste as a resource, rather than as an inferior fuel.

    Report this comment

    Barking

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Interestingly Sharpe Pritchard: the legal advisors on this, announced on their website March 19th they are joining EM Law Share; a consortium designed to: 'deliver even greater efficiencies and improved service through a range of factors including greater partnership working, enhanced added value services and even greater value for money. This will build on the multi-million pound savings already achieved through bulk purchasing power.' So that's all right then.

    Report this comment

    Lise

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • The fools who signed something they did not understand and the fools who advised the fools.Surprised we havn't heard it was the fault of the last government and the recession. Clueless each and everyone.Time for resignations and sackings.

    Report this comment

    Norfolkman

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Who is to blame? The previous Tory administration - a debacle in every way. Look at Children's Services for another example.

    Report this comment

    Johnboy

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Total Tory fiasco who like most politicians these days are much too far removed from the people!

    Report this comment

    Sportswagon

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Honest John, I am with Andy T on this one. Councillors (and MP's for that matter) are elected by the people to represent their views at local and national levels of government and I think that means making a choice to cast their vote on behalf of their electorate, in accordance with the wishes of that electorate. Being whipped to vote on party lines is not necessarily representing your electorate if the whipping instruction is not reflecting their views. Abstaining is just sitting on the fence and is also probably not representing your electorate - unless you know that your electorate is equally divided in opposite ways.

    Report this comment

    BernardJuby

    Thursday, April 10, 2014

  • NCC knew since 2006 that the public rejected incineration. Yesterdays vote we were told at County hall, would prevent the bill going up by 5 million to 35.5 million, now the EDP has jusat added them, for extra effect. Those named should consider their positions, we can not afford their kind of contracts involving backward technologies. Swedens incinerators are of adifferent design and they do not burn their heavy metal filters to save money, they dom not pollute the people downwind with 2.5mg particles.The political decision to dither now, when Norfolks people needed a solution before 1st May, will reflect itself in the next elections. Tory head office plan to make NCC look daft in this has backfired, and we will pay for it, whilst UKIP has advanced by a very large margin. Their refusal to provide an alternative budget after they had the PFI withdrawn, due to their administrations failure, not MP's, set them on a course of self destruct. I expected to see the new CEO there yesterday, observing the proceedings and the dynamic of coalition politics that have come together to safe Norfolks bacon, but there must have been more pressing issues of concern, a good opportunity missed. Once the new committee system is introduced, long overdue, we will be able to have a more open decision making process, leaving the old fashioned backroom dealers who still value their top down system, although they speak of reform, looking awkward. My sincere thanks to Cllr. Dewsbury's vote, the two words uttered 'whipped abstain', showed us what local politics has become, a sad parody that derides constituencies and voters.

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • And more mess to come, NDR and Coltishall to name but a few! Same Conservative team, most still in there at the trough.

    Report this comment

    Marigold

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Dewsbury showed no spine. Instead of standing up for her belief she effectivly sat on the fence. If she had a spine she should have voted honestly. And being told to vote "the correct way" is not a whip because it still allows choice.. Dewsbury showed nothing but indecision and rank incompetence.

    Report this comment

    Andy T

    Wednesday, April 9, 2014

  • I urge everyone in Norfolk who can to write to their own MP asking for Government help in getting financial support to pay the current compensation shortfall of £11 million, More cuts will only hurt even harder especially since they will have to be rushed through without public consultation

    Report this comment

    bedoomed

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • It's down to the Tory cabinet who awarded the contract and failed to make provision incase it failed. Also the officers who drew up the contract. Those officers still employed and named in this article should be dismissed.

    Report this comment

    Bikerboy

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Easy question... easy answer... NIMBY'S. All that was required, was a long term answer to "What do we do with all our rubbish"...bury it or burn it, now we bury it and polute the water,feed rats, and have seagulls, then maybe have a fire that will burn for years, then the NIMBY's can moan.

    Report this comment

    OLDYELLA

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Talking about NIMBISM. A councillor asked if she voted to support the motion to cancel the contract how much extra traffic would be sent to the Suffolk incinerator. She said people in Long Stratton would not like it.

    Report this comment

    Alan Allan

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Let's all go back a bit further than this and remember that this contract was signed without planning permission. Now peeps, hands up any of you who would buy a house that needed planning permission before that planning permission was granted. You would be a very silly peeps indeed. Well that is what the Tory cabinet did. Those there like Alison Thomas blethering on about not having Obey in her marriage vows. A more helpful addition to her marriage vows would have been Read the Contract before you Sign It. I cannot believe those who were responsible had the bare faced cheek to turn up let alone open their mouths. They are wholly and totally responsible for this contract being signed. £35 million liability. Look no further than the Tory ranks. Gnobbs and his little band may have been annoying like gnats in the Highlands in summer but the responsibility lies with the Tories.

    Report this comment

    alecto

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • One thing is for sure.This situation is NOT the fault of any of the elderly and vulnerable children and adults who rely on the council's services.Nor the users of all the vital services the council provides but if these services are cut as a result of this Tory fiasco,it will be these very people who have to bear the responsibility and they should not.

    Report this comment

    Peter Watson

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Perhaps if it was a requirement that councillors should live within 5 miles of the areas they wish to represent then they shouldnt be allowed to stand. Too many remote Tories, representing areas far away from where they live, with no understanding of local issues, making decision on behalf of residents without any consultation. And why does this happen ? Because in many parts of Norfolk you can stick a blue rosette on a dog and it will get elected. Sadly, in some cases, the dog might do a better job than some of those Tories elected. The incinerator fiasco was a mess of the Tories own making, which was inherited by LabLDUKIP to deal with. At least theyve had the guts to make the right decision now. there are better option for dealing with waste that don't involve burning it and poisoning the local environment.

    Report this comment

    Nich

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • The officers who allowed the disastrous compensation clause to stand were clearly negligent and should go. Due diligence on behalf of Norfolk council tax payers was not carried out with sufficient rigour and this error alone is grounds for their dismissal.

    Report this comment

    la barbe

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Who is to blame? Murphy, Borrett, and various Officers of NCC. This whole debacle has come about through a detracted policy of power grabbing initiated by Murphy who ruled NCC and the Conservatives with an iron fist and in such a dictatorial fashion, riding roughshod over Councillors who didn't fall in line....it wasn't enough to have an huge majority at NCC, sewing up the council politically, he wanted complete control over NCC by 'buying' in senior Officers too. The work initiated by Murphy stumbled during the Kevingate affair, cracks began to appear in the watertight exo-skeleton of the Conservative inner circle, resulting in Murphy's ousting. Bill Borrett remains at the top of the tree today ruling over a minority Conservative party at NCC, and having been one of the original signatories on the contract, maintains his idealistic stance on a completely impotent and 'unfit for purpose' project, as any good, loyal acolyte would do. But, it is not just these two, and not just the Conservatives. Although those Councillors who got voted in on a pledge of getting rid of the Incinerator and have since voted for it in October's vote, are equally to blame. The Councillor exists only to serve his or her electorate. The arrogance of the those who forgot this simple mantra still permeates through the Council at all levels. The only solution is for the public is to go back to basics and vote these ditherers out of office. Only then will NCC begin to win the respect of the electorate.

    Report this comment

    Scooby

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • What a waste of time yesterday was. Going through the motions of a debate and a pointless vote, with the public baying at anyone supporting the incinerator and applauding those against it. Why weren't NCC security controlling the baying mob? The decision was always going to be down to the Cabinet to make. The rainbow alliance have shown yet again that they can't make a decision on their own.

    Report this comment

    Andy T

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • How is Borrett still Conservatives leader?

    Report this comment

    Jeffrey Osborne

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Just remember, when you next vote, which councillors led us into this expensive mess and which led us out.

    Report this comment

    The man on the Clapham Omnibus

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • So 30m plus to be wasted in compensation. Probably 10years to plan and build a way of dealing with our waste, that's if the next bunch of NIMBY's don't get their way. No one comes out of this with credit, everyone has pursued their own little agendas. With this type of attitude nothing will ever get built in Norfolk what ever happened to looking at the big picture? We have become a laughing stock for the rest of the country.

    Report this comment

    Tony

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • If I were the officers and council I would stop digging right now on Coltishall and the NDR. It is going to get very nasty indeed and will make the Incinerator look like a Teddy Bears' Picnic. You will be sure of a big surprise folks! Evening all.

    Report this comment

    alecto

    Wednesday, April 9, 2014

  • ALL the councillors there voted yay or nay with the honourable exception of Margaret Dewsbury, hero of the day. She was the only one to abstain and she did because she (and all the supine Tories) had been told to obey a political order and vote what Borrett considered the "correct way". She could not do that as she represents the people of Norfolk and especially her division and she could not betray them. Apart from her brave stance there were no surprises. The rest of the Tories don't need whipping. They are so keen to obey their master's voice and ignore the needs and wishes of the people of Norfolk they were fighting to outdo themselves in justifying the wretched incinerator. The worst one was La Somerville who was so quick to judge real people who fought such a brave fight that she ended up looking like Putin's maiden auntie.

    Report this comment

    alecto

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Andy T, you are bitter because?

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    Honest John

    Thursday, April 10, 2014

  • The blame most definitely lies with the NIMBY's who else...!

    Report this comment

    MickB1

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Bernard, this was supposed to be a 'free vote', Borrett had told Cllr Dewsbury to stay away from the meeting rather than vote against him. She courageously turned up, her vote was not needed to cancel the contract, what she did was to expose Borrett for whipping the Consevatives, far more effective use of her words when you look at it from a different angle? Look back at Andy T's posts on other incinerator stories and you'll see where I'm coming from.

    Report this comment

    Honest John

    Thursday, April 10, 2014

  • The £35m bill for the axed Norfolk incinerator: Who is to blame? Answer Borrett & Murphy in the main.

    Report this comment

    John L Norton

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • I can't help feeling that the EDP is missing something here. What changed to make officers' advice change? Could it be that the officers changed their advice (although not the analysis that led to the advice) to what the LabLibKip coalition wanted to hear? Could it be that there is a meeting of personal interests between the councillors who will be writing job references and the outgoing Temporary Chief Exec and other senior temporary staff? Now these are things that a newspaper should be looking for...

    Report this comment

    Jack1956

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Obviously the NIMBYS...AGAIN. And they have left us with the bill....!

    Report this comment

    YesToWind&Solar

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • How come some councillors did not vote although they attended. Unless there is some financial interest I expect elected representatives to vote. I did notice the names!!!!

    Report this comment

    jennifer jane

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • So either the Tory councillors, the officials who acted on Tory orders, Tory MPs, or Tory cabinet in government. Well there's a running theme there.

    Report this comment

    Jeffrey Osborne

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Those who are blaming "NIMBYISM", have you looking into the technology and costings yourselves, or have you accepted the council report and the media regurgitation? If you looked into it you'd see the problems that have been experienced with other plants using the same technology, along with the amount of waste they need to consume to be viable. Add in the EU rules on recycling, which means that waste levels will naturally reduce, there would not have been enough waste in Norfolk to satisfy the contract requirements, hence the price per ton would have risen sharply. Over the life of the contract, even with the waste credits, Norfolk would have faced a hefty future bill. Is that good value for money? Or is it just short-sightedness? Wouldn't it be better to make use of the spare capacity of nearby incinerators while looking at sustainable and recycling-friendly options for the future, rather than handing over council payers cash to a company that has no vested interest in the area?

    Report this comment

    So_Many_Haters!

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Nimby's, as Mick says, are not responsible for the cancellation, but the withdrawl of PFI last year scuppered it. The nimby's were the only one's who excerted scrutiny on cllrs. spendthrift behaviour, whilst they merely managed to raise their hands.

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Wait until the next Tory fiasco, RAF Coltishall. But on this occasion Nobbs is right behind them. He would be as a director of Norwich Airport and Norwich Airport Travel, he has a lot to lose if they allow aviation back. NCC have been offered £9 million for the site hut refused it! There's the bulk of the funding gap. This administration is as immoral as the last one, and the same officers are involved

    Report this comment

    Commander500

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Oldyella .... Very good post.

    Report this comment

    samphirelover

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Derrick Murphy, Graham Plant, Ann Steward Mick Castle, Peter Hardy, To name but a few these and others not only cost Norfolk Ratepayers a fortune re the incinerator but don't forget these same people cost us another £20 plus million for the fiasco over Great Yarmouth Port

    Report this comment

    John L Cooper

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Nice to see that the EDP is censoring comments again, if they do not fit in with their way of thinking.

    Report this comment

    "V"

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • John Cooper, A very timely reminder my friend. Your foi revealling the 25 thousand payment to a council off.icer on delivery of the YOH contract may be a clue in this case. How many months did it take you to force disclosure of that information?

    Report this comment

    Canary Boy

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Where or who are all these millions going to ? Has it been spent already on lawyers etc., Or is it a compenstion package to the company involved? How is it possible that this could happen? Somebody ,somewhere knew all the of the details of this shameful episode and the elected councillors have failed miserably in their duties. Did nobody see this coming? An independent enquiry into this whole sorry episode should be ordered. Maybe the police should have some involvement. The people responsible are out there somewhere and must be held accountable. Shameful,shameful.

    Report this comment

    norman hall

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • NCC are to blame, no one else. Who authorised the signature of the contract without first obtaining the necessary planning consent? Please take note Mr Borrett. You don`t have to be a lawyer or get advice from a Council adviser to work that one out!

    Report this comment

    SierraCharlie

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

  • Total Tory fiasco who like most politicians these days are much too far removed from the people!

    Report this comment

    Sportswagon

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

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

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