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King's Lynn incinerator surveys tell different stories

PUBLISHED: 07:28 02 March 2011 | UPDATED: 22:32 02 March 2011

The proposed incinerator site at Saddlebow, near King's Lynn.

The proposed incinerator site at Saddlebow, near King's Lynn.

Archant © 2011

West Norfolk has voted resoundingly against proposals to build an incinerator in King’s Lynn.

A tale of spin behind the scenes

Cory Wheelabrator’s £140 an hour PR consultants warned that yesterday’s announcement would be “critical to (the) overall credibility of the project and its management team, if not the final result of the planning application”.

A report by Paul Kelly, of the PPS Group, says the pro-incinerator camp should not appear “high-handed” to the people of West Norfolk.

“The media and other stakeholders will want to know the sequence and detail of events,” it says. “We need to decide what they can be told and whether we will agree such lines to take with the council first or act unilaterally.”

PPS suggested ways in which Cory Wheelabrator’s refusal to take part in the council poll could be spun.

“We need to suggest that our absence from the referendum undermines the moral value of it and that it carries no legal value in any event,” notes Mr Kelly.

Of its own survey, carried out by researchers ComRes, it notes: “We might want to offer the borough council a chance to see our research results (depending how they look). We might extend this to the local MPs.”

PPS is charging Cory Wheelabrator £140 an hour to monitor the media, “rebut negative stories” and advise on strategy.

In one e-mail accompanying details of its proposed charges, its director Rebecca Eatwell says: “We’d be more than happy to discuss a success-related bonus for this work going forward, if that is of interest.”

But the company behind the plan claims its own research shows the rest of Norfolk wants the scheme to go ahead - as leaked documents reveal how its advisors plotted to undermine the council poll.

Some 65,516 people voted no to plans to build an “energy from waste” plant at Saddlebow, while 5,173 voted in favour of the scheme.

Speaking after the leaked documents became public last night, West Norfolk council chief executive Ray Harding said: “The scale of the turnout and the clear, decisive result means their task is impossible as the result speaks for itself.

“People in West Norfolk want to be listened to and no amount of game playing by any of the participants can undermine that - they’re on a hiding to nothing.”

More than 70,000 people returned their polling papers in the borough-wide ballot, a turnout of 61pc - far higher than the last local elections.

Mr Harding said: “There has been a high level of interest in this issue and the poll has given people the opportunity to make their views known.

“The turnout shows how strongly the people of West Norfolk feel about the proposals.

“This result will be made available to Norfolk County Council, the authority that will ultimately make the decision on whether to permit the construction of the incinerator in King’s Lynn.”

A note to members of the consortium hoping to build the plant from its PR company PPS warned its response to yesterday’s announcement would be “critical to overall credibility of the project and its management team, if not the final result of the planning application”.

Documents passed to the EDP discuss how best it could undermine the “moral value” of the council poll.

Last night it stood by the consultant’s report, saying it was “disappointed” that private and confidential papers had been leaked to the media.

“This document was simply a draft for an internal conference call to decide a way forward,” it said. “Some of the recommendations contained in it were adopted and some were not – this is to be expected from any recommendations and we stand by our consultants.

“The context for the draft document was that we were not happy about the poll.

“We have always said that we thought the poll was ill conceived as the question was neither accurate nor neutrally phrased and it was conducted before our planning and environmental permit consultations had been completed.

“We therefore felt that the moral value of the poll was undermined and faced with this we needed to decide how to respond, as the issues that needed to be communicated are very complex.”

Cory Wheelabrator issued the results of its survey of 1700 people across the county moments before the figures for the council-run poll were issued.

It said research by the polling organisation ComRes showed that 65pc of Norfolk residents were in favour of the plant.

In a statement issued with the results, it said: “The market research finds that there is a strong majority support for the proposals on a countywide basis but in the King’s Lynn area the support is at 26pc, with 63pc against.”

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said: “It’s an extraordinary day for West Norfolk.

“It’s a David and Goliath contest, the people of my constituency and the borough have spoken out in quite extraordinary fashion.

“It’s a remarkable result, it’s a really good example of localism and the big society.”

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss said: “The referendum has demonstrated clearly that the residents of West Norfolk are opposed to the incinerator.

“I want their views to be heard and propose a more integrated approach for waste across the whole of Norfolk.

“This is estimated to save £25m over five years. Given the current spending squeeze, I question the use of public money to fund a project that the local community do not want.”

Anti incinerator campaigner Mike Knights said: “I’m pleased that we got such a strong mandate against the incinerator.

“It was such a big turnout, such a resounding no that if they ignore it, they’re flying in the face of democracy.”

Ann Steward, Norfolk County Council’s cabinet member for sustainable development, said: “We have been listening carefully to the views of people in West Norfolk, and have attended many meetings to hear these first hand.

“Given the concerns of people in West Norfolk, it is entirely appropriate that cabinet hears from the Leader of the borough council on March 7, so that any questions cabinet has are discussed in detail and considered.

“This is a crucially important decision for the people of Norfolk, so we need to satisfy ourselves that we are doing the right thing for the county and are in a position to move forward with confidence.” Cory Wheelabrator said it did not take part in the council poll because the question was not neutrally-phrased.

West Norfolk is not the planning authority. Norfolk County Council will decide whether the incinerator can go ahead. It has promised a full public consultation later this year.

See Thursday’s EDP for more on this story.

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