Renewed plea for Eric Pickles to hurry up with King’s Lynn incinerator decision

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles delivers his speech to delegate

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles delivers his speech to delegates on the third day of the Conservative Party Conference at Manchester Central in Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday October 1, 2013. See PA TORY Stories. Photo credit should read: Dave Thompson/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A renewed call for Eric Pickles to make his decision on the King's Lynn incinerator has been made as it emerged the potential compensation bill could rise further if the plans are given the red light after May.

Norfolk County Council said the 840,000 people of Norfolk were being left in limbo as the cabinet minister weighs up whether to uphold planning permission for the Saddlebow project.

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A source close to Mr Pickles says a decision is still 'not imminent' almost a month after he missed his own deadline of January 14, adding that he wanted to be sure that he had properly considered the evidence.

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Anti-incinerator campaigner and North-West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said it was wrong to put pressure on him to make his mind up quickly, claiming pressure should be put on the county council to scrap the scheme instead.

A spokesman for DCLG said Mr Pickles was aware of concerns about the delay, but the inspector's report covered complex issues and there had been numerous post-inquiry representations and more time was needed to evaluate the planning issues.

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In October Defra pulled a £169m grant towards the scheme, which campaigners hoped would see the plans go up in smoke. But councillors decided to press ahead anyway.

Norfolk County Council is due to set its budget on February 17, but County Hall leaders have said the delay over the decision has left the authority in limbo when it comes to its financial planning.

The authority is likely to face compensation claims from Cory Wheelabrator if planning permission is not granted, and officers have recommended that a 'war chest' of £19m is built up to go some way to paying that bill.

But it has also emerged that, after May 1, an extra £5m will be added to that potential compensation payment, so the council could be facing a bill of up to £31m from the Anglo-US consortium it awarded a contract to run the £500m plant.

George Nobbs, Labour leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'I understand it's a difficult position for Mr Pickles, but it is even more difficult for the 840,000 people of Norfolk because the county council budget is being affected by his indecision...

'Please, Mr Pickles, whatever your decision, do not delay it any further.'

Mr Pickles, whose department is responsible for the clear-up operation after the floods, spent yesterday announcing extra cash in the aftermath of the flooding crisis.

The delay comes against a backdrop where the county council will have to make £189m worth of cuts and savings over the next three years.

Among the cuts proposed are reducing library staff, charging for some recycling, spending less money fixing roads and axing of hundreds of council jobs.

Bill Borrett, leader of the opposition Conservative group, recently wrote to Mr Pickles urging him to make a swift decision.

Anti-incinerator campaigners say the council missed a golden opportunity in October to pull the plug on the scheme, when the full council voted by 40 votes to 38 to agree a revised project plan for the Saddlebow plant.

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