King’s Lynn incinerator - what next for Norfolk, is the question now

What next is the obvious question, after environment secretary Caroline Spelman refused to confirm the �169m in PFI credits to build an incinerator at King's Lynn.

Back in June, environment secretary Caroline Spelman wrote to Norfolk County Council and warned a 'broad public consensus' was needed behind the incinerator before it could obtain approval to borrow the money to build it, adding she was concerned at the strength of opposition to the plan.

Now Mrs Spelman says she has still not seen enough to convince her there is a consensus, so she is putting the �169m PFI (Private Finance Initiative) deal needed to build it on hold until she does.

Bill Borrett, Norfolk's cabinet member for environment and waste, accused the minister of moving the goalposts with 'a seemingly irrational 11th hour change of approach'.

And in what opponents see as a clear indication that the county council intends to press on regardless, he added: 'With or without PFI credits, this proposal represents good value for money.'

Could Norfolk build an incinerator without PFI, when it is already committed to making savings of �155m over the three years, alongside an expected 45pc fall in capital grants from central government?

That could well be the question if the county council cannot unlock the PFI deal with some new trump card.

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Mr Borrett said the county did not have a choice.

'If we don't build it, it will cost more than building it,' he said.

'Without it, the additional cost of waste disposal will have to be found from the council's budgets and impact on Norfolk council taxpayers' services.

'What we're trying to do is build a power station that's powered by rubbish. That's why it came out top of our list.'

Mr Borrett said the county council believed it had provided 'ample evidence' of consensus. He said it would seek 'clarification' from Mrs Spelman before deciding its next move, refusing to be drawn on what that might be.

West Norfolk's departure from the Norfolk Waste Partnership and the pending judicial review into the county council's conduct in awarding the contract for the incinerator were cited by Mrs Spelman as further grounds for putting a block on the �169m PFI deal.

West Norfolk – whose poll showed the strength of opposition to the incinerator – has a clear message. Nick Daubney and his cohorts argue it is time to bury the hatchet and move forward.

They say there are choices and it is time to get round the table and find a workable solution for both West Norfolk and the rest of the county.

And they argue there are newer, greener technologies which offer viable alternatives when it comes to dealing with our waste.

Mr Borrett said: 'They don't know what these are going to cost. They don't know how polluting they're going to be.

'This is all miles away in the future. It's taken us five years to get to where we are with the existing scheme.'

Mr Borrett said he had requested more details about the alternatives being cited by West Norfolk but the firms behind them had refused because the processes involved were secret.

'One of them involves steam but they won't tell us where the steam comes from or how squirting steam at rubbish changes it,' he said.

'We are always keen to look at new ideas but until we get an idea of what they will cost, what outputs they produce, timetables for delivery and the robustness of their technology they remain ideas, not concrete plans.'

West Norfolk Council said details were revealed at its recent seminar and 'the one involving steam' was already up and running in Yorkshire.

Barry Brandford, the district council's waste and recycling manager, said: 'During our seminar two existing technologies were presented to demonstrate that alternatives to landfill and incineration exist and are viable.

'Sterecyle, who use autoclave technology, have a plant operating in Yorkshire and provide their services to three councils.

'Duratrust, who use two emerging technologies to process the waste are currently building their first commercial scale plant in North Wales. Both of the plants, in their separate ways, recycle 'black bin' waste.'

Mr Brandford said the new technologies would not carry a capital cost because the companies would fund construction of the necessary plant, recovering their investment by charging to recycle waste.

'Early indications are that this would be between �50 and �70 per tonne, which would be less than the gate fee charged for the proposed incinerator (�108 per tonne).

'As the market for the end products improve and the company becomes more successful the council would expect to receive some sort of profit share from the company.

'By applying the proximity principle – dealing with waste where it arises, rather than transporting from one side of the county to the other – a further �3m per year could be saved compared to the proposed incinerator.'

Meanwhile Mrs Spelman has been accused of redrawing the rules by suggesting the volume of protest in the West Norfolk referendum is a key factor in her thinking – apparently contradicting her cabinet colleague, communities secretary Eric Pickles, who has said the only public consultation that counts is through the planning process and changed the Localism Bill accordingly.

Results from the planning consultation echoed the results of West Norfolk council's earlier poll - follow links above for the breakdown of how parish councils across Norfolk responded.

What Mrs Spelman does next – or how long she takes – is unclear. In any event, the picture could become clearer when an application for a judicial review into the county council's conduct comes before the High Court. At a procedural hearing on December 5, the court in London will decide whether or not the case merits a full review.

If the judge decides it does, the case could drag on for months. If not, there could still be scope for further delay, in the shape of an appeal.

About the only thing that seemed certain last night was that the row over Norfolk's burning issue shows no sign of running out of steam any time soon.

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