Norfolk County Council agree to alternatives, but no debate on whether to pull the plug on incinerator plans

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

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

Norfolk County Council has agreed to look at alternatives to incineration, but stopped short of debating whether to pull the plug on the plant.

Two proposals calling for Norfolk County Council to pull out of the contract with Cory Wheelabrator for an incinerator at King's Lynn were dropped or changed today.

Instead, the council agreed a motion that it was 'premature' to make that decision, with an independent review into the contracts set to take place and the Secretary of State yet to make a decision on whether to give the £596m plant planning permission.

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The agreed motion, an altered version of one by independent Richard Bird, was that the council welcomed the independent review and recognised that the cabinet is 'drawing up contingency arrangements, involving officers, including looking at alternatives to energy from waste, in case the contract does not go ahead''

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Eleventh hour discussions took place between group leaders to try to agree the wording of the motion to tackle the future of the proposed Norfolk incinerator.

A vote over whether to pull out of the Saddlebow plant was secured after last month's elections, through a motion put forward by Conservative John Dobson, a long-standing opponent of the Saddlebow incinerator plan.

That vote was due to take place at a meeting of the county council today, but Mr Dobson pulled his amended motion, which had been to withdraw, but to delay that withdrawal until after the Secretary of State has reached a decision on planning permission.

Instead, the council agreed Mr Bird's altered motion, although Mr Dobson said he may revive his motion in the future.

Council officers had said, should the council pull out of the contract it could cost as much as £90m, while if the secretary of state decides, following the public inquiry, not to ratify the authority's decision to award the plant planning permission, it could leave the council with a bill of nearer to £35m.

Those figures have been questioned and the cabinet last week ordered an independent review of the contract and the process which led to it being signed.

Anti-incinerator campaigners have been invited to play a role in picking a QC and a financial expert to run the rule over the contract, to see if they agree with what officers concluded.

The county council decided to grant the plant planning permission last year, but secretary of state Eric Pickles called the issue in for a public inquiry.

That inquiry recently finished and a final decision on whether the plant should be awarded planning permission will be made by Mr Pickles by next January.

If he says no, then officers state that, despite the £20.3m compensation cap, the cost of the contract being terminated because planning permission fails is already likely to be closer to £35m, because of exchange rates, interest rates and the early repayment of public inquiry costs, between £1.5m and £2m. But if the council chooses to pull out of the contract for other reasons, officers say the costs could be significantly higher and they say the full amount, including debt repayments, redundancy costs and lost profits, would have to be paid within 40 days.

The money would have to come directly from council coffers, because the authority would not be allowed to borrow to cover the costs.

And officers said withdrawal from the contract would lead to the loss of the £169m government Waste Infrastructure Grant for the incinerator, officers say, so that money could not be used on an alternative method of dealing with waste.

See tomorrow's paper for more from the debate and reaction to it.

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