Norfolk could scrap King’s Lynn incinerator ‘without risking bankruptcy’
- Credit: Matthew Usher
Norfolk can afford to bin the burner without the county council bankrupting itself in the process.
As councillors meet today to discusss whether to scrap the incinerator contract, government officials have confirmed the council could meet the £24m cancellation fee from its reserves.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb has called for an urgent review of advice given by council officers prior to today's meeting, who have also claimed they would be forced to issue a legal notice effectively placing the council into bankruptcy if it voted to tear up the scheme.
Mr Lamb said he had received e-mails from officials in the DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government) which suggested that a much higher proportion of the cost could be covered out of reserves. They added they were not aware of any reason why the so-called Section 114 notice would have to be issued.
'My view is it would be completely wrong for the council to proceed with what I regard as a vanity, grandiose project, with such doubt over the advice that's been given,' he said.
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'This is a nightmare project we should escape from as soon as possible.'
David Harrison, a fellow Liberal Democrat and the county's cabinet member for the environment, transport and waste, has warned breaking the contract would leave the council facing 'financial armageddon'.
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'I've looked at the financial officer's report and he says quite categorically we have £21m in our reserves, of which we have to maintain £16m by agreement,' he said. 'We need £25m to pay off the cancellation and we don't have the money.
'There's been lots of huff and puff over whether the financial officer's correct but he's our financial officer, he's responsible for running the financial ship, so if he says we're in a bankrupt position, we're in a bankrupt position.'
Today's extraordinary meeting has been called by a cross-party group of five county councillors - Richard (Toby) Coke (UKIP), Tim East (Lib Dem), Andrew Boswell (Green), Stan Hebborn (UKIP) and John Dobson (Cons). They say there are no 'rational reasons' why the contract could not be cancelled.
Mr Boswell said: 'It is clear from the laws that govern how local authorities control their reserves that the council can find the £25m needed to rid Norfolk of the incinerator from existing reserves.
'There is absolutely no requirement to declare technical bankruptcy, or to take special measures. These are exaggerations that are being used to scare councillors.'
Mr Dobson added: 'It is inconceivable that the county council with its annual gross turn-over of £1.5bn is incapable of finding a £25m penalty in the time stipulated and risks going bankrupt. This is clearly scaremongering on a grand scale.'
Last May's local elections, when the Conservatives lost overall control of the council, saw many new councillors elected after pledging to oppose the incinerator.
One was Alexandra Kemp, who was elected in the Clenchwarton and King's Lynn South ward, close to the proposed incinerator site at Saddlebow.
'The majority of Councillors were elected in May on an anti-incinerator ticket,' she said. 'So we have a democratic mandate to come out of the contract.
'The public expects us to keep our promise to the electorate. If the county council doesn't vote no to the revised project plan on Monday, we might as well bin democracy and all go home.'
A final decision over the future of the burner will be made tomorrow by the county's ruling cabinet. They will have to consider any recommendation made today, along with other reports and papers, before making their minds up.
A snap survey carried out by EDP reporters in towns across Norfolk over the weekend showed public opinion to be finely-divided on the issue.
Our news team asked 100 people should the incinerator be scrapped. Thirty-five said they didn't know, 34 said it shouldn't be scrapped, and 31 said it should.
Officials warn there will be limited seating available for members of the public who wish to observe the meeting, which begins at 10am.
There will be 46 seats in the council chamber, which will be open from 9am. These will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Once they have been taken, people will be seated in the adjoining Edwards Room, where they will be able to hear the meeting via a PA link.