Analysis: Incinerator process has been ‘marked by animosity and personal attacks’

Not since the fight for unitary status, which was stopped in its tracks by communities secretary Eric Pickles, has an issue set Conservative authorities in Norfolk at such odds.

Norfolk County Council says the incinerator at King's Lynn will save taxpayers millions of pounds a year and help the authority avoid hefty fines for sending waste to landfill. West Norfolk Council does not want it on its doorstep and says other technologies should be used.

The incinerator affair actually stretches back to 2005 when the county council revealed a site in Costessey, near Norwich, as the planned location for an energy from waste plant. But the vigorously opposed plans for an incinerator by waste firm WRG collapsed because it could not secure the land to build on.

The authority had to go back to the drawing board in 2009, when a multi-million pound contract with Sustainable Resource Management (SRM) for an anaerobic digestion plant at Longwater business park, Costessey, was abandoned after costs shot up to �800m.

That led to the county council, which insists it needs to find a way to deal with waste to avoid hefty landfill fines, switching its attention to the so-called Contract B, which was where Saddlebow entered the equation.

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Councillors visited a number of waste plants before deciding in 2010 their preferred bidder to run a �500m plant at Saddlebow was Anglo-US firm Cory Wheelabrator.

Opponents' arguments included the health impact, that alternatives had not been properly considered and Wheelabrator's record in the United States.

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An attempt by anti-incinerator campaigner Michael De Whalley to force a judicial review into the process by which the contract was awarded failed at the High Court last December.

The county council then found itself on tenterhooks over whether the government would award a Waste Infrastructure grant for the incinerator, the Willows Power and Recycling Plant.

That money, previously known as PFI credits, is for the council to spend on an 'agreed level of service' for 25 years from the plant, which would be built by Cory Wheelabrator.

That would deal with 170,000 tonnes of residual municipal solid waste each year, which the council says would save it about �8m a year.

But the plant could take up to 275,000 tonnes of waste a year, with commercial and industrial waste also due to be dealt with.

West Norfolk Council has sought a judicial review over environment secretary Caroline Spelman's decision to award those credits. A judge rejected a judicial review, though the borough council is still hoping for a second chance by requesting an oral hearing to put their case again. In the end, the plant was given permission. A month later it overcame another hurdle as the Environment Agency agreed it would be handed an environmental permit to operate.

Now Mr Pickles has called in the county council's decision. But the whole process has been marked by animosity and personal attacks.

Dan Grimmer

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