Both sides welcome decision to call in King’s Lynn incinerator

Both sides in the bitter row over Norfolk's proposed incinerator last night welcomed the news it had been called in by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, causing a public inquiry next year.

An independent planning inspector will now hear evidence from all parties before making a recommendation to the secretary of state who will have the final say on whether it should go ahead.

In a letter to Norfolk County Council's principal planner Nick Palmer, an official in Mr Pickles' department said the minister was very selective about calling in planning applications, only in general taking this step if planning issues of more than local importance are involved.

'Having regard to this policy, the Secretary of State is of the opinion that the application is one he ought to decide himself because he considers the proposal concerns matters of substantial regional and national controversy.

'The Secretary of State accordingly directs that the application shall be referred to him instead of being dealt with by the local planning authority.'

While anti-incinerator campaigners hailed the decision as a chance to get a full hearing of their evidence, the county council also welcomed the call-in, which could cost up to �1m.

Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy said: 'We are very confident we have done all the things we should have done. The secretary of state is just reviewing it to satisfy himself. It is very useful that the secretary of state has this mechanism. If it aids the democratic process, it must be a good thing.'

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Graham Plant, the council's cabinet member for planning and transportation, said: 'This can only be helpful in reassuring local people about what is a very significant matter for Norfolk.

'We are confident the application meets all planning policy requirements, the recommendation made by our planners was correct and the decision taken by the planning committee was the right one, given national and local planning guidelines.

'As people will be aware, we made it clear in a letter to Mr Pickles as far back as March 2011 that the county council would provide every assistance should he decide to call in the application, and of course, we will now be glad to do so.'

Bill Borrett, the county council's cabinet member for environment and waste, added: 'I have always maintained this process should be done by the book.

'I note the Secretary of State is particularly looking for further information about how Cory Wheelabrator's planning application fits with some key policy frameworks. The forthcoming inquiry will test all these aspects and the final decision now rests with him.

'Today's announcement can only bring further peace of mind to those looking for even more reassurance.'

But West Norfolk council leader Nick Daubney said: 'Over 65,000 people voted against this proposal, only to have their views ignored by Norfolk County Council.

'We have campaigned long and hard for this call in so the decision on the incinerator would be taken in a fair and transparent way. Today's announcement means that everybody's concerns will now be heard by an independent planning inspector at a full public inquiry.'

Norfolk MPs learned of the move yesterday in a telephone call from Bob Neill, junior communities minister who told them one reason for the decision was the record amount of correspondence his department had received.

'I gather the Department has had nearly 6,000 letters. That's almost a record, if not the record,' said North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham, adding: 'It doesn't mean we're going to win but it does mean we're going to get a fair hearing. Everyone will get the chance to have their say and put their case.'

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss said: 'It's the right decision. It's an issue people are very, very concerned about in West Norfolk.'

North Norfolk LibDem MP Norman Lamb said: 'It's a significant development and I welcome it, having made the request, because I felt all along that it was justified.'

Anti-incinerator campaigner Mike Knights described it as 'fantastic news', adding: 'By having a proper public inquiry, all the arguments we have been making will finally get heard and it's about time too.

'There is lots of work to be done now but when you know at last someone impartial is going to consider what is submitted to them it makes it worthwhile.'

Environmental management consultant Richard Burton said: 'It shows the evidence we have provided to central Government is sufficient to cast doubt on what Norfolk County Council has been saying. I hope it will be a two-week hearing and we can go along and win this.'

More than 65,000 people voted against the incinerator in a poll organised by West Norfolk council.

Norfolk County Council signed a contract to build and operate the �500m incinerator at Saddlebow with Anglo-US consortium Cory Wheelabrator.

John Boldon, from the Cory Wheelabrator Consortium, said he was disappointed at the call-in for taking the decision out of the hands of Norfolk's own waste planning authority.

He added: 'We strongly believe our proposals will deliver the most sustainable and long-term solution for Norfolk's significant waste problem.

'We will now engage positively with the Planning Inspectorate to demonstrate the numerous merits of our application.'

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