What next for Norfolk incinerator after government pulls funding?
- Credit: IAN BURT
The future of a proposed incinerator which sparked a public outcry and roiled Norfolk politics has been thrown into doubt after the government withdrew £169m of funding for the project.
Environment minister Lord de Mauley told the county council, which had proposed the burner at Saddlebow, King's Lynn, to solve the county's waste problems, the project was not needed to meet EU landfill targets.
The news delighted anti-incinerator campaigners, who hailed it as the death knell of the project and urged the county council to break the contract with Cory Wheelabrator, which said it was disappointed and would submit a revised plan.
Councillors will hold a crunch debate the burner on October 28, with the cabinet making a final decision about its future the following day.
However, the councillor with responsibility for the project said it should still go ahead because of the £20.3m in compensation, plus an estimated £6m in further charges, it would cost taxpayers if it was cancelled.
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David Harrison, cabinet member for waste, said: 'The rainbow alliance [of councillors who run the council] came together to get rid of the incinerator but it's getting rather difficult to get rid of it because if we don't go ahead with it we would have to pay a levy to Cory Wheelabrator which works out at about £26m.
'Five years ago when we had plenty of money that would not have bothered us, but now we have to make £66m of cuts next year. To have to suddenly make another £26m would make £92m, and we are already cutting services to the bone, and it would be cut to I-don't-know-what.'
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Council leader George Nobbs described the government's decision as 'disappointing' and said it 'added a new dimension to the debate about waste disposal in Norfolk', but would not be drawn on its effect on the incinerator's future.
The government's review of the funding was prompted by the failure to secure planning permission for the incinerator by a particular date.
Councillors voted to grant planning permission in June 2012, but communities secretary Eric Pickles had already announced he would put the decision on hold.
In yesterday's letter, Lord de Mauley said: 'In short, we do not consider that the award of WICs [Waste Infrastructure Credits] to this project is necessary to increase the estimated likelihood that the 2020 Landfill Directive target will be met and therefore the principle purpose underlying the award of WICs no longer applies.'
More than 65,000 people opposed the incinerator in a survey held by West Norfolk Council in 2011.
West Norfolk council leader Nick Daubney said: 'I'm pleased sense has prevailed.
'The conditions set down to secure PFI funding weren't met and we made our protestations to ministers at the time.
'The biggest poll ever held in this county didn't support it. The capital city of this county didn't support it.'
Mike Knights, vice chairman of the King's Lynn Without Incineration campaign group, said: 'I'm absolutely delighted. I think we are now getting to the point where the thing is going to get torn up and consigned to history. It is a day I have been hoping will come for a very long time, and it's now very much in sight.'
His call for the council to ditch the incinerator was echoed by Conservative North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham, who had joined South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss in urging ministers to withdraw funding.
He said: 'This project was old technology in the wrong place. What we now need to do is to move on. This will hopefully sound the death knell. We need to look at other alternatives for sorting out Norfolk's waste.'
Mr Bellingham said he has written to the Treasury asking it to give the council a loan to cover the compensation bill if the incinerator does not go ahead, which could be paid back over a number of years.
However, Conservative group leader Bill Borrett, who was responsible for the incinerator as cabinet member for environment and waste in the previous Tory administration, said: 'To put it mildly this is extremely disappointing news for Norfolk.'
He said he had supported the incinerator to save the council £8m a year, and added: 'If the project can still demonstrate that it offers value for money then it still has my full support.'
He said his group, the largest on the council, would be given a free vote on the future of the project during the October 28 meeting. Liberal Democrat councillors will also be given a free vote.
Earlier this month, a group of councillors from the UKIP, Conservative, Labour and Green groups said it would be more cost effective to send waste to an existing incinerator in Amsterdam, which they said would, in the short-term, give the council time to find better solutions.
Yesterday, UKIP leader Toby Coke said: 'Today's announcement shows the government has come to the same conclusion as UKIP, that it is pointless borrowing money to subsidise a totally uneconomical project.'
He added: 'I would now urge that officers, members and Norfolk MPs work together to find a solution to the compensation payable if the contract is terminated on October 28 that will not result in further revenue saving being required.'
Councillor Richard Bearman, leader of the Green group on Norfolk County Council, said: 'The Greens are very pleased to hear this news from the government. It has been clear for some time that the only way the project was financially viable was with the waste infrastructure credits. The Greens have been saying for some time that there are better ways of dealing with Norfolk's waste than building an incinerator in Kings Lynn.'
He added that the Greens believed the council should now rule out the incinerator and go for local, green alternatives.