King’s Lynn incinerator is called in after record numbers write to protest

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has called in the controversial King's Lynn incinerator, it emerged today.

That means there will be a public inquiry into the scheme, before a decision is taken by an independent planning inspector over whether it should go ahead.

In a letter to Norfolk County Council's principal planner Nick Palmer, released to the EDP this afternoon, an official in Mr Pickles's department writes: 'The Secretary of State's policy is to be very selective about calling in planning applications. He will, in general, only take this step if planning issues of more than local importance are involved.

'Having regard to this policy, the Secretary of State is of the opinion that the application is one he ought to decide himself because he considers that the proposal concerns matters that are of substantial regional and national controversy.

'The Secretary of State accordingly directs that the application shall be referred to him instead of being dealt with by the local planning authority.'

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Graham Plant, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for planning and transportation said:

'This can only be a helpful step in reassuring local people about what is a very significant matter for Norfolk.

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'We are confident that the application meets all planning policy requirements, that the recommendation made by our planners was correct and that the decision taken by the planning committee was the right one, given national and local planning guidelines.

'The Secretary of State will now have the final decision and as people will be aware, we made it clear in a letter to him as far back as May 2011 that the county council would provide every assistance should he decide to call in the application, and of course, we will now be glad to do so.'

Bill Borrett, the county council's cabinet member for environment and waste, said: 'I welcome this decision, I have always maintained this process should be done by the book.

'I note the Secretary of State is particularly looking for further information about how Cory Wheelabrator's planning application fits with some key policy frameworks. The forthcoming inquiry will test all these aspects and the final decision now rests with him.

'Today's announcement can only bring further peace of mind to those looking for even more reassurance.'

But West Norfolk council leader Nick Daubney said: 'We welcome this announcement. Over 65,000 people voted against this proposal, only to have their views ignored by Norfolk County Council.

'We have campaigned long and hard for this call in so that the decision on the incinerator would be taken in a fair and transparent way.

'Today's announcement means that everybody's concerns will now be heard by an independent planning inspector at a full public inquiry.'

Norfolk MPs learned of the move earlier this afternoon, when they were called by Bob Neill, the under secretary of state for Communities and Local Government.

Mr Neill told them one reason for the decision was the record amount of correspondence his department had received.

'I gather the Department for Communities and local Government has had nearly 6,000 letters. That's almost a record, if not the record,' said North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham.

Mr Bellingham said a public inquiry would be held next year into the incinerator scheme.

'It doesn't mean we're going to win but it does mean we're going to get a fair hearing,' he said. 'Everyone will get the chance to have their say and put their case.'

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss told edp24: 'I'm delighted that the government has made this decision. It's the right decision. It's an issue people are very, very concerned about in West Norfolk.'

Norman Lamb said: 'Simon Wright and I made the first request from MPs for this to be called in and then all the Norfolk MPs joined together with a request that Henry Bellingham put together.

'It's a significant development and I welcome it, having made the request, because I felt all along that it was justified.

'When county council is responsible for development and determining planning applications and when public opinion is so hostile to it, it just deserves an independent review.'

Anti-incinerator campaigner Mike Knights said: 'I'm absolutely delighted. It's fantastic news.

'It's clear the county council were pre-determined in their decision. It was so obvious during their own planning meeting that they were going to approve it.

'By having a proper public inquiry, all the arguments we have been making will finally get heard and it's about time to.

'There is lots of work to be done now but when you know at last someone impartial is going to consider what is submitted to them it makes it worthwhile.'

Environmental management consultant Richard Burton said: 'It shows the evidence we have provided to central Government is sufficient to cast doubt on what Norfolk County Council has been saying.

'I hope it will be a two week hearing and we can go along and win this.

'This decision justifies what the campaign has done all along and a planning inquiry will put everything out into the open.'

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

But Norfolk County Council signed a contract to build and operate the �500m incinerator at Saddlebow, near King's Lynn with Anglo-US consortium Cory Wheelabrator, which included a �20m penalty clause.

Norfolk County County voted to give the plant planning permission at a stormy meeting in June. But Communities Secretary Eric Pickles issued a holding notice the night before, meaning that the county council decision would be put on hold until he had decided whether to call in the application.

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