Prime minister urged to cover cost of burner cancellation

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

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

Prime minister David Cameron has been urged to cover the £30m cost of scrapping the proposed Norfolk incinerator and for the government to help find an alternative way for the county to deal with its waste.

George Nobbs, Labour leader of Norfolk County Council, has written letters to the prime minister, chancellor George Osborne and business secretary Vince Cable asking for help with the 'serious financial problem' the council faces.

The council last month voted to pull the plug on a contract with Cory Wheelabrator to build and run the £610m plant at Saddlebow in King's Lynn.

That left the council facing a £30m bill, including £20m in compensation to Cory Wheelabrator, contractor public inquiry costs of £1.6m and exchange rate and interest rate related costs of £8.36m.

On top of that, £5m had already been spent to procure the contract and buy the site.

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In his letter, Mr Nobbs says: 'I am writing to you in order to ask for your help with a serious financial problem that my council has had to deal with as a result of the actions of a previous council administration here and the inaction of your Secretary of State for Communities.'

Referring to comments from North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham that the government might be able to help, Mr Nobbs said: 'Whilst I do not believe that Mr Bellingham is right in his repeated assertions, I would welcome an offer of assistance from the government, for the immediate £30m abortive costs, and a conversation on help for the forthcoming costs of a difficult third scheme.'

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Mr Nobbs warned that efforts to find a long-term solution to dealing with Norfolk's waste will be 'blighted' because two attempts to build plants have now failed.

The first scheme which was cancelled was a proposed mechanical biological treatment plant at Costessey - itself proposed after an attempt to build an incinerator on the outskirts of Norwich were scrapped.

Mr Nobbs wrote: 'The council is having to pay just over £30m for the failure to proceed and will now have to embark on a third scheme, with further costs to be met.

'Delivery of the third scheme will be blighted by the market knowledge of the demise of the previous two schemes.'

In his letter, Mr Nobbs contrasts comments from Mr Cameron on the need to simplify and speed up the planning system with the time communities secretary Mr Pickles was taking to decide whether to ratify planning permission for the plant.

Mr Nobbs said that delay meant the burner contract to no longer offer value for money, although critics have questioned why such a contract was signed up to in the first place.

In the short-term, the county council has been talking to their counterparts in Suffolk over whether waste can be sent to the Great Blakenham incinerator over the border.

In October last year, Defra pulled a £169m grant towards the scheme, which led to Conservative councillors attacking Tory MPs who lobbied to get that award cancelled.

After the contract was cancelled Mr Nobbs revealed he had asked for an inquiry into the issue, to be conducted by the council's independent chairman of the standards board - Stephen Revell.

But the appointment of Mr Revell - a former Liberal Democrat councillor and one-time joint leader at County Hall - has been criticised.

Critics on both sides of the incinerator argument have said he is not truly independent and does not have the expertise required to investigate the issue.

• What do you think of the incinerator saga? Write, giving full contact details, to Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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