Norfolk County Council cabinet agrees to press ahead with incinerator
- Credit: IAN BURT
Norfolk's controversial incinerator remains on track after the county council's cabinet agreed to press ahead with the plant.
And the cabinet has revealed it is exploring taking the government to the High Court over the withdrawal of waste credits for the plant, through a judicial review.
At a meeting of the full council yesterday, councillors agreed, by 40 votes to 38, to recommend that the controlling cabinet agree a revised project plan for the burner at Saddlebow in King's Lynn.
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And, at County Hall this morning the cabinet, made up of Labour and Liberal Democrat portfolio holders, decided to agree the revised project plan.
That means Cory Wheelabrator still have a contract with the council to run the plant, with a decision due next year from Secretary of State Eric Pickles as to whether to ratify the planning permission the council agreed to grant for the site.
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George Nobbs, Labour leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'People have argued for years that they wanted a full council debate and having achieved that, with a free vote in every political party, it would be a travesty for us to reject the democratic decision of the council.'
Mick Castle, cabinet member for schools, said he hoped the decision would bring 'closure' to the debate, which has gone on for years.
Before the meeting, opponents of the burner had pointed to information obtained from the Department for Communities and Local Government by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, which they said cast doubt advice given by Peter Timmins, interim head of finances.
Mr Timmins stood by his advice in the cabinet meeting. He said the council had not officially received any advice from the DCLG.
He said, in any case, council officers were better able to judge the state of the authority's finances and anything the DCLG had to say would have been based on information from April, with the council's financial situation having worsened since then.
A short part of the meeting was held behind closed doors, because financial details of the contract had to be discussed.
Officers said the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed the public interest in disclosing the information.
After the meeting, Toby Coke, UKIP group leader, who helped secure yesterday's full council debate said: 'It is very disappointing that the new information obtained overnight was not taken into account
'I am quite sure that if we had that information before the full council debate we might have had a different result, but the fight will keep going.'
A decision to award Cory Wheelabrator a contract to run the £596m plant was made in March 2011 by the former Conservative administration.
But the full council had never debated the incinerator until yesterday.
It had been awarded £91m in waste credits by the government, which would have been worth £169m over the lifetime of the plant.
However the government withdrew that funding earlier this month and, with the council needing to agree a revised project plan for the plant, councillors demanded the right to vote on whether they should push ahead.
A string of reports detailed possible compensation payable to Cory Wheelabrator, ranging from £20m to £100m.
The council's interim head of finances had warned that could leave the authority facing bankruptcy and services could have to be cut.
Councillors in favour of scrapping the burner yesterday said the compensation due could be found from reserves and by capitalising the compensation payments.
But those who voted to keep the burner on track warned the council would face a 'financial abyss' by pulling out.
Mr Nobbs revealed at the cabinet meeting that the council was talking to lawyers about whether it could take the government to judicial review over the withdrawal of the waste credits. And he said the council would be taking up an offer of talks with Defra, although he stressed a letter from the department had made clear they would not be providing an alternative source of money.
Paul Green, of the Cory Wheelabrator consortium, said: 'The consortium is pleased that Norfolk County Council's cabinet has today voted to accept the Revised Project Plan.
'We believe that the Willows Power and Recycling Centre will provide a long term sustainable solution to deal with the County's residual waste.
'We now look forward to the Department for Communities and Local Government making a swift planning decision.'