Call to sell off Norfolk farms to help shoulder bill for incinerator

The proposed incinerator site at Saddlebow. Picture: Ian Burt.

The proposed incinerator site at Saddlebow. Picture: Ian Burt. - Credit: IAN BURT

Selling off some of Norfolk's county farms estate could be the way for County Hall to shoulder the cost of pulling out of the incinerator contract without damaging frontline services, it has been claimed.

On Monday, Norfolk County Council will consider two proposals to withdraw from the contract which was signed with Cory Wheelabrator for the energy-from-waste plant at King's Lynn.

A vote over whether to pull out of the £596m plant was secured after the change in the political balance at County Hall following last month's elections.

Council officers have warned that, should the council pull out, it could cost as much as £90m. And if the secretary of state decides, following the public inquiry, not to ratify the authority's decision to award the plant planning permission, it could leave the council with a bill of around £35m.

Those figures have been questioned and an independent review of the contract and the process which led to it being signed has been ordered.

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However, Liberal Democrat Tim East, one of the council's biggest critics of incineration, has suggested that one way of coping if the council were hit with a large bill could be selling off some of the county's farms.

The county council owns some 16,000 acres of farmland, leased to more than 200 tenants. While a county council spokesman said it was difficult to put a value on the land if it were sold, it brings in £1.5m a year.

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But Mr East said: 'If it means protecting frontline services by selling off assets, rather than taking a £90m hit in compensation payments and reducing the impact on taxpayers, I'm all for it.'

In 2011, the Lib Dems proposed selling off part of the estate to raise money to build eight new specialist facilities for children in care. Both the Conservatives and Labour opposed that.

And council leader George Nobbs angrily dismissed the suggestion of a county farms sell-off. He said: 'It is unfair and it is unsettling for our tenant farmers.'

At Monday's full council meeting, Conservative John Dobson, a long-standing opponent of the incinerator. will put forward a new motion, that the council resolves to withdraw from the contract, but does not do so until the day after the secretary of state decides whether to allow permission for the plant to be granted.

And independent Richard Bird has put forward a motion that the council writes to the government for help in finding a way out of the contract.

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