Council bosses to meet government officers over Norfolk incinerator

Officers from Norfolk County Council are to meet government officials following an invitation from environment secretary Caroline Spelman to discuss her decision to withhold �169m of funding for an incinerator at King's Lynn.

The cabinet minister has written to council leader Derrick Murphy inviting County Hall officers to meet her Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs officials, following her revelation this week that she had put the Private Finance Credits, which would offset the �500m cost of the scheme, on hold.

But Ms Spelman, responding to a letter from Mr Murphy after she stated she was not prepared to approve the funding for the Saddlebow plant until 'additional evidence' of a broad consensus to dealing with waste was provided by the council, made clear her take on the situation differs from that of the council.

That appears to be a reference to the council's claim in their letter that her department had already indicated the council had provided the relevant information to secure the release of the funding for the Willows Power and Recycling Plant.

Bill Borrett, cabinet member for environment and waste at County Hall, confirmed officers would meet DEFRA officials, but had clearly hoped for a more constructive response to the points Mr Murphy had raised in his letter.

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Mr Borrett said: 'Norfolk County Council has received a follow up letter from Caroline Spelman inviting its officers to meet with her officials to further clarify her request for yet more evidence before releasing a PFI grant worth �169m to Norfolk's council taxpayers.

'We have already been in touch with the relevant officials at DEFRA and expect to meet with them swiftly.

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'However, the secretary of state's letter does not move the situation on any further. Norfolk County Council was told by DEFRA in September this year that all the relevant information we had supplied was sufficient to their requirements.

'We know the DEFRA door has not been closed, but we cannot rest until we know that it is not only wide open – but that we have actually crossed the necessary threshold.

'From the widespread consternation this has caused, others with major infrastructure projects in the pipeline are clearly watching carefully to see how this matter is finally resolved.'

But Henry Bellingham, MP for North West Norfolk, who has been a fierce opponent to the King's Lynn incinerator scheme, said the solution was for councils to come up with an alternative to incineration.

He said: 'We have got to stop this grandstanding. We have got to get around the table, put everything back on the table and look at the alternatives.'

Meanwhile, Ms Spelman's decision has sent shockwaves through the waste industry. It also raises questions about the extent to which local opposition could affect other major infrastructure schemes, such as the �32bn high speed rail link between London and Birmingham.

Matthew Farrow, director of policy at the Environmental Services Association, which represents the waste management industry, said: 'This is a deeply misguided step. Barely a fortnight after the prime minister spoke of the urgent need to get infrastructure projects moving, Ms Spelman, has threatened to withhold the release of PFI credits from an important scheme that was fully in line with her own Department's Waste Review. The government is trying to have it both ways, but at a time when banks will only finance waste management projects where the risks are manageable, this decision could have damaging and far-reaching implications.

'This also has implications across other parts of government and one wonders what Ms Spelman's cabinet colleagues will make of it.'

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