Norfolk incinerator company picked

Council bosses have decided which company they want to run a controversial incinerator in Norfolk - but insisted the public will still get their chance to influence the final decision on whether the plant is built.

Campaigners protested outside County Hall yesterday morning ahead of a cabinet meeting where Anglo-American company Cory Wheelabrator was picked as Norfolk County Council's preferred bidder for the 'energy from waste' plant near King's Lynn.

The scheme would see a purpose-built energy from waste plant capable of treating 170,000 tonnes of black bin waste built on the Saddlebow industrial estate, and also capable of processing a further 90,000 tonnes of commercial waste.

Supporters believe that the incinerator is safe and will not only help tackle the county's waste mountain, but will also be able to produce energy which could provide power to 36,000 homes.

But campaigners argue emissions from the plant could pose a risk to people's health and were moved to protest after it emerged the council would be left with a hefty �20m compensation bill should its own planners fail to give the project the green light.

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The protesters argued that the clause could compromise the council's planning committee, because if those members turned down the scheme it would see the council have to pay out.

The county council says the planning process is entirely independent from the contract process and such a clause would not impact on any potential decision.

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However, at yesterday's cabinet meeting members agreed to name Cory Wheelabrator as their preferred bidder - which means proposals will now be drawn up and a planning application submitted.

Ann Steward, cabinet member for sustainable development, said up until now council officers and members had attended a number of public meetings to defend the process, but once a proposal was submitted the public would get a chance to comment on specific proposals. She said: 'I have attended many meetings and know the strength of feeling that is generated among people when they are told that burning waste in an incinerator isn't safe, despite all the advice and guidance to the contrary. I have also spoken to many who passionately support these proposals. 'It is important that people be aware of all the fact so they can make an informed opinion and that they have a formal way of expressing their opinions. 'That formal process lies ahead and will start when a preferred bidder is selected. As they developer, they will begin the process of applying for planning and permitting permissions.' She said people would be able to express opinions through the 'extensive formal public consultations' which will take place and those would be taken into account by the planning committee and the Environment Agency.

Cabinet member Alison Thomas said: 'My understanding is that until we have got a preferred bidder, we do not have a specific project to scrutinise.

'Once we have got that, it will be very clear about what is proposed and at that stage we will then see the detail and give better clarity as to the proposal.'

While some of the meeting took place behind closed doors - with the council saying that was because confidential information needed to be discussed - the public portion saw a string a questions directed at the cabinet from anti-incinerator campaigners.

Among them was Jennifer Parkhouse, from Friends of the Earth, who questioned Wheelabrator's record in the United States and environmental manager consultant Richard Burton. who said 'much of the information' Norfolk County Council is distributing was either incorrect or 'so out of context as to be potentially misleading'.

Mrs Steward said the council does not agree with Mr Burton's own assessments and rebutted claims incorrect or misleading information had been distributed.

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