Incinerator could still be built in Norfolk, if inquiry rules out King’s Lynn

An incinerator could still be built in Norfolk, if a public inquiry rules out controversial plans for an 'energy from waste' plant on the outskirts of King's Lynn.

The disclosure from a senior county councillor came as it emerged that the inquiry into plans to build the burner at Saddlebow would begin in February, at a venue in King's Lynn.

Norfolk County Council is expected to be hit with a bill of up to �20m if it breaks a contract with Cory Wheelabrator, the Anglo-US consortium chosen to build the plant.

But yesterday Bill Borrett, deputy leader and cabinet member for environment and waste, said under the deal, the authority could request a second incinerator proposal be put forward.

Mr Borrett said a new plan would be requested to secure 'value for money to ratepayers'. He also told the council's cabinet negotiations on a settlement with Cory Wheelabrator could only take place if this second idea also failed to receive permission.

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Mr Borrett, responding to a question from Labour group leader George Nobbs, said: 'In these types of contracts if a contractor has failed to secure planning permission or an environmental permit, then the county council can ask the contractor to propose an alternative plan in order for the contract to be fulfilled.

'It is only if this alternative plan is rejected by the county council, or it also fails, and the county council then abandons the contract, that it could have to pay some of the development costs incurred by the contractor, sub-contractors, funders and investors as laid out in the contract.

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'It is not possible to give a figure as at present, as it is a hypothetical question.'

Mr Nobbs rubbished the suggestion the cash figure is a 'hypothetical question' and quizzed Mr Borrett further, demanding to know who agreed to this deal.

Mr Borrett added: 'I think it's extremely unlikely given we are committed to providing value for money to ratepayers we wouldn't pursue a further option with the contractor to come up with a proposal which would be suitable to the relevant authorities.

'If that alternative fails to receive permission there's no sensible reason for pursuing any further agreement then the contract would be walked away from.

'The cost is hypothetical because until the figures are put forward and subject to negotiation by both parties and the final agreed schedule of what could be claimed by the contractors could be produced - it's not an agreed cost.'

Mr Borrett said it was 'highly unlikely' another location in Norfolk would be sought for an incinerator as it will be difficult to find a new site that is as 'sound' for dealing with waste and transport links according to planning policies.

Instead, Mr Borrett said if a second proposal is required it is likely it will attempt to rectify the reasons for why the first was rejected.

Campaigners fighting county council proposals for the incinerator last night said they were not being given enough time to put their complex case together, after it emerged the inquiry would be held in February.

But a spokesman for the Planning Inspectorate said the inquiry would begin on February 26, provided a suitable venue could be found.

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said: 'I have written to the Planning Inspectorate and to Eric Pickles, saying a later date would be wiser.

'The objectors need more time, they need to raise money and February, with the inclement weather is not the ideal time to hold it.

'It would be better if the county council sat down with the borough and worked out an agreed solution to this.

'I'm still confident when an independent inspector hears the evidence he will come down against this proposal. It's outdated technology, in completely the wrong place.'

The inspectorate expects the inquiry to last for 20 days. The date means that it will be held before May's local elections, when seats on the county council come up for election.

West Norfolk council leader Nick Daubney said: 'I think there should have been a longer delay before the inquiry. I'm not sure how healthy it is to have a public inquiry before an election when one of the parties is up for election.

'I wish the inspector had put everything off until after the election, but I am delighted that there's going to be a public inquiry.'

Campaigner Mike Knights said: 'We would have liked to have had longer to prepare, it would help us to make our arguments better.'

A county council spokesman said: 'It is not necessarily the opinion of the County Council that February would be early or late, if indeed planning inspector decides the inquiry will be held in February.'

Norfolk County Council voted to give planning permission for the plant at Saddlebow in June.

But Communities Secretary Eric Pickles's office announced the decision was being called in, meaning there would be a full public inquiry.

Announcing the decision, officials said that more than 6,000 letters had been received in support of the call-in. They included one signed by all nine Norfolk MPs.

Norfolk County Council awarded the contract to build and operate the incinerator last year to Anglo-American consortium Cory Wheelabrator.

It said the plant was needed to prevent the county's waste having to go to landfill, which would save taxpayers millions of pounds a year.

But campaigners claim there are health risks and there are cheaper and more environmentally-friendly methods of recycling our waste.

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

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