How exactly did we get here again..? Six year wrangle over Norfolk incinerator

The site of the proposed incinerator, at Saddlebow, near King's Lynn. Picture; Matthew Usher.

The site of the proposed incinerator, at Saddlebow, near King's Lynn. Picture; Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

The wrangle over the proposed King's Lynn incinerator goes back more than six years.

They called it the incinerator Norwich didn't want to start with, because the original plan was to build one there.

Norfolk County Council abandoned plans for a burner at Costessey in early 2007 after fierce opposition against the plan.

When officials turned their attention to King's Lynn, the 'I-word wasn't mentioned at first.

In 2006, a bland and uncontroversial-looking piece of officialese called the Norfolk Waste Strategy was published. It outlined a new 'waste hierarchy', explaining: 'This would involve moving away from relying on landfill and investing in new waste facilities that would use modern technology to treat left over rubbish and recover resources from it instead.'

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In early 2008, the county council bought derelict land at Saddlebow, after applying for what was then called PFI (Private Finance Initiative) funding from central government to bank roll its waste strategy.

In March 2009, the government approved a £169m grant and the county council tendered for companies to deliver its new waste strategy.

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Late in 2010, the council's preferred bidder was confirmed - a multinational consortium called Cory Wheelabrator, who wanted to build an incinerator.

By then opposition was mounting. A protest group KLWIN (King's Lynn Without Incineration) had been formed. West Norfolk councillors voted to stage a borough-wide poll.

The result, published in March 2011, was a landmark. Some 65,516 people - 92pc of those who had taken part - voted against the incinerator. West Norfolk council's chief executive Ray Harding said it showed the strength of feeling against the proposals.

But the county council and Cory Wheelabrator claimed the result was invalid, because they had not taken part in the poll. Both had been given the opportunity, but had declined it.

A few weeks later, David Cameron told MPs it was 'very important' for local communities to have their say, after the county council said the result would not be a 'material consideration' when it decided whether or not the incinerator should be given planning permission.

For many in West Norfolk, the debate was no longer about the merits of incineration against other forms of waste treatment. It was about democracy itself.

In March 2012, the county council awarded the contract to build and run the incinerator to Cory Wheelabrator - complete with a £20m penalty clause if the burner did not go ahead.

When county councillors gave it planning permission three months later, opponents claimed it was a done deal.

But the decision had already been called in by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles. That meant he would make the final decision over whether it should receive planning permission, after a full public inquiry.

Both sides had their say at the inquiry, which began in February and lasted almost three months. The inspector's recommendation on whether the plant should be given planning permission - is not expected to be published until the New Year. It remains to be seen whether yesterday's announcement might bring that forward.

In May it was all change at County Hall, when the Conservative administration which had championed the incinerator lost its majority.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition, with support from UKIP. Many of the new faces had stood on an anti-incinerator ticket.

But after agreeing to have a full debate on the burner, the discussion was shelved after officials claimed scrapping the project could cost Norfolk £90m.

The pro-incinerator lobby - reduced in number since the election - said they told us so, the incinerator was the cheapest way to deal with our waste and that's why they agreed to it.

Earlier this month, UKIP leader Toby Coke announced an alternative - ship our waste to Holland, and burn it there instead.

He also called for the PFI credits - now known as Waste Infrastructure Credits - to be cancelled.

County council Leader George Nobbs said that would add a 'massive self-inflicted wound' to the authority's ongoing financial woes. He warned the move would not free Norfolk from its obligation to build the incinerator - just £169m worse off.

But today opponents hope that the withdrawl of taxpayer's money will be followed by the overturning of planning permission, meaning back to the drawing board when it comes to how we dispose of our waste.

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