Time to end ‘rip off of the century’ - afternoon report from crunch incinerator meeting at County Hall
The debate over whether to pull the plug on the proposed incinerator in Norfolk has moved into the afternoon, with the full council vote due at around 3pm.
Officers have recommended that the council terminates the contract with Cory Wheelabrator for the £610m plant at Saddlebow at King’s Lynn.
County Hall officers said the plant no longer offers good value for money and pulling out later could lead to higher compensation costs.
Tensions reached boiling point at County Hall today as councillors queued up to have their say.
Steve Morphew, Labour cabinet member for finance, said the plug had to be pulled as a risk had turned into a gamble.
He said: “I am used to taking risks with public money, but I am not going to gamble and I think we have got to the point where this is a gamble.”
UKIP leader Toby Coke said it was time to call time on “the rip off of the century”.
But Conservative leader Bill Borrett, and other senior Conservatives, have said the council should not pull out.
Mr Borrett said, contrary to what the officer report said, the plant still represented value for money and presented a graph to back up his argument.
He said: “The project offers value for money right up to 2017.
“We don’t need to rush into a decision today.”
He said the council should wait for the decision from communities secretary Eric Pickles on whether to allow planning permission.
Green leader Richard Bearman, who will vote to scrap the plant, said there needed to be a public inquiry into “who decided what and when”.
Former Labour councillor, Alexandra Kemp, now Independent councillor for Clenchwarton and a longstanding opponent of incineration, said: “Council, your duty today is set right the wrong you have tried to do to this community. You must get this right. Take away this threat hanging over my division. We can never give up the fight.”
Tim East, Liberal Democrat county councillor for Costessey, said: “We are at the last chance saloon to save this county from spending huge amounts of money on an outdated technology which will cost the tax payer far more over the 25 years of the contract than terminating it now.”
Alison Thomas, Conservative cabinet member for Long Stratton, said: “What concerns me is the speed with which we are being asked to make this decision.”
She said the contract still had merit and the council should wait for the decision from Mr Pickles.
James Joyce, deputy leader, said the decision had to be made now because 15 days notice had to be given to the contractor - and today was the last day that could be done without adding £5m to the compensation payable to Cory Wheelabrator.
And Terry Jermy, Labour councillor for Thetford, accused the Conservatives of being “arrogant” and having “contempt for the electorate”.
He said: “We are going to be paying millions of pounds for effectively nothing.
“I hold every pound of that money accountable to the previous Conservative administration.
“Every pound lost is due to their arrogance and councillor Borrett was right in the thick of it.”
Click here for live coverage of the meeting.
Ahead of the meeting this morning, anti-incinerator campaigners gathered outside County Hall, after travelling across in a coach from King’s Lynn.
A report by the council’s own officers, published last week, made the shock recommendation that the council should pull the plug on the contract before the cost of pulling out of the plant started going up by £400,000 every month.
The recommendation – which would mean the council would have to pay contractors Cory Wheelabrator £30.26m if it were agreed – was revealed in a report put together by Tom McCabe, the council’s interim director of environment, transport and development, head of finance Peter Timmins and acting managing director Anne Gibson.
The report states: “If the county council wishes to continue to await the community secretary’s decision, then the capped compensation for termination for planning failure must increase from £20.3m to around £25m from May 2014.
“In addition, each month after that, the capped figure would go up by another £400,000.
“This would mean that a negative planning decision after May 2014, or a successful challenge to a positive planning decision, would incur significantly higher termination costs.
“Meeting those costs would present the risk of greater implications for services than a decision to reject an increase to the breakage cap now.
“If the county council decides to terminate the contract, the current overall cost of termination, most recently estimated as £30.26m, would become payable.”
The officers also state that the delay in Mr Pickles making a decision is reducing the value for money of the plant, although critics say that is a “smokescreen” and the cost of the plant is already poor value. The county council has built up a £19m “war chest” in case it has to pay compensation.
Officers state: “The remaining £11m could be achieved within the necessary timescale, albeit with significant implications for services.”
If councillors do terminate the contract, the council would need to find an alternative solution, both in the short-term and in the long-term.
A vote has yet to be taken. Once it is, the ruling Labour/Liberal Democrat will meet to make a final decision.