New row ahead of crunch meeting on Norfolk incinerator

A fresh row has broken out on the eve of a crunch meeting over whether an incinerator is built in Norfolk, with objectors accusing the county council of stifling their time to speak.

The public have been allocated a 30-minute slot in which to have their say at tomorrow's meeting of the county council's planning committee, which they must all share.

And it has emerged police are set to attend the meeting, which is likely to be highly-charged, in case there is unrest.

Norfolk County Council's planning committee is set to consider whether to grant permission for Cory Wheelabrator's controversial incinerator at Saddlebow in King's Lynn.

The Willows Power and Recycling Centre proposal, which has been bitterly opposed in West Norfolk, is being recommended for approval.

Councillors will be presented with a report running into more than 570 pages about the proposed plant, which the county council says is needed to deal with the county's waste,

The report by officers states: 'This is a key proposal in terms of making a major provision for the treatment of Norfolk's waste and moving this up the waste hierarchy from landfill.

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'The proposal would have the additional benefits of generating energy in the form of power to be exported to the National Grid and with the potential for heat and steam to be supplied to an adjacent major industrial development.'

Of the 8,375 responses from members of the public, 7,609 have objected, with 644 statements in support and 122 comments.

Among key reasons for objections are that it goes against planning policy, that peer-reviewed studies show a link between incinerators and poor health, the localism agenda is being ignored, people would rather see alternative technologies used, the site is in a flood risk area and, having already agreed to award the contract, the council's own planning committee cannot be trusted to fairly and objectively consider the application.

West Norfolk Council, which held a poll in which 65,000 people said they were against incineration, objected, as have dozens of parish councils, including 49 in West Norfolk, nearest to the proposed plant.

County Hall officers state that 'technical evidence' provided by Cory Wheelabrator has been 'rigorously examined' by the county council's consultants and statutory consultees and has 'been verified as demonstrating that there would be no adverse impacts on air quality, on human health and on designated habitats'.

Officers conclude: 'The proposal is considered to accord with the development plan and other material considerations including national planning policies also indicate the planning permission should be granted.

'Accordingly it is recommended that planning permission is granted, subject to conditions.'

Anti-incinerator campaigner Mike Knights said he would be surprised if committee members went against officer advice.

He said: 'I have seen nothing to suggest to me that the meeting is going to be anything other than them just going through the motions.'

He hit out at the limited time for members of the public to speak, with at least 29 people wanting to have their say in the 30 minute slot.

Henry Bellingham, North West Norfolk MP, a long-standing objector to the plans, has also criticised the lack of time allocated, with him having to take a share of that slot.

But a spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: 'The planning application has been the subject of four public consultations and we have published all comments received and the level of objections is reflected clearly in the final 570–page report.

'We understand this is an important issue for all parties, which is why we extended the time for all speakers. 'The time for members of the public objecting to the proposal and for the applicant and supporters of the proposal had been extended from the statutory five minutes to 30 minutes.

'It's important that the committee has adequate time to consider all the issues but the chairman has some discretion in relation to the conduct of the meeting and no doubt he will exercise it appropriately.

'Notwithstanding the limit which we have to put on time for speaking there is no possibility of people's views going unmarked by the planning committee.'

The spokesman added the planning committee will listen with 'an open mind' and will come to a decision based on the evidence.

The county council's cabinet agreed in March last year to award a contract to run the plant, which could deal with 268,000 tonnes of waste a year.

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman awarded �91m of waste PFI credits for the scheme in January, after requesting the county council to provide 'additional material' and evidence of 'broad consensus' supporting the county's waste strategy.

There are 17 councillors on the planning committee, but it is understood at least two of the councillors who usually sit on it will not be at tomorrow's meeting. They will be replaced by substitutes.

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