Council to draw up a Plan B in case Norfolk incinerator contract is axed

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

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

A plan B is to be drawn up in case Norfolk County Council's contract for an incinerator at King's Lynn is terminated, but a debate on whether to pull the plug on the plant has been put on hold.

The full council was due to debate whether to abandon its contract with Cory Wheelabrator for the £596m plant at Saddlebow yesterday.

But instead, the council agreed a motion that it was 'premature' to make a decision on pulling out, with an independent review into the contracts due to take place and the Secretary of State yet to make a decision on whether to give the plant planning permission.

The motion also acknowledged members of the council's cabinet are to work with officers to draw up what they brand as 'contingency arrangements', including 'alternatives to energy from waste', if the contract does not go ahead.

Officers had said, should the council pull out of the contract it could cost as much as £90m, while if the secretary of state decides, following the recent public inquiry, not to ratify the authority's decision to award planning permission, it could leave the council with a bill of £35m.

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But campaigners have questioned how committed the authority really is to finding alternatives and said the council should have asked the government for help in finding a solution.

A vote over whether to pull out of the plant was secured after last month's elections, through a motion put forward by Conservative John Dobson, a long-standing opponent of the plant.

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But, following eleventh-hour discussions between group leaders, which saw the meeting adjourned for an hour, Mr Dobson withdrew his motion.

He had planned to call for the council to agree to pull out of the plant, but to hang fire on actually withdrawing, pending the Secretary of State's decision on planning permission.

The motion which was agreed came from independent councillor Richard Bird. It was altered from his original, which had included asking the government for help in finding a way to withdraw from the contract.

Of the 73 councillors who voted, all agreed the motion, except Conservatives Ian Mackie and Beverley Spratt, who abstained.

Mr Dobson said 'pragmatism' had led to him withdrawing his motion. He said he welcomed the motion which was agreed, including the recognition that alternatives to incineration would be considered. But he added he might re-submit his motion in the future.

Speaking after the meeting, George Nobbs, Labour leader of the council, said it would have been 'catastrophic' to have debated Mr Dobson's motion.

He said: 'It took some time to get a joint agreement on the motion we did agree, but the other motion would have been catastrophic for Norfolk and its services and I was determined for that not to happen today. Thank goodness common sense prevailed.'

He said it was too early to say what conclusions would be reached over alternative technologies.

He said the next step was for the cabinet to consider the independent reports which will be drawn up, to help make what he described as 'the right decision for the people of Norfolk'.

During the debate on the motion, Conservative leader Bill Borrett, said the previous administration, which agreed to award the contract to Cory Wheelabrator, had signed it 'in the best interests for the people of Norfolk'.

He said he welcomed the independent reports which cabinet scrutiny ordered into the contract, after the warning from officers of the potential bill for withdrawing.

He said: 'The figures are so enormous that if we ballsed this up it would have a very large effect on the services we all want to see delivered to the vulnerable and needy in Norfolk.'

Afterwards, anti incineration group KLWIN (King's Lynn Without Incineration) said they were disappointed the scissors had been taken to part of Mr Bird's original motion - to seek help from the government over the implications of withdrawal from the contract.

Mike Knights, from KLWIN, said: 'The government are the biggest player of all. If they have got some practical help or can tell us what options could be available, it's ridiculous not to ask for it.'

He also questioned whether the alternative options would be seriously looked at and said the motion s wording to look at alternatives to energy from waste was muddled.

He said: 'They should have always been looking at all the options, but they never did and I am not altogether convinced they are going to start looking now.'

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