Norfolk incinerator: who stands where
Debate over the King's Lynn incinerator plans is already raging and will only become more intense as the consultation and decision-making process goes on.
Norfolk County Council and its preferred bidder, the Anglo-US consortium Cory Wheelabrator, have already set out their stall. They maintain that an energy-from-waste incinerator at Saddlebow, just south of the town, makes good sense, providing a safe and efficient way of disposing of the county's waste.
Opponents, meanwhile, including the local KLWIN (King's Lynn without Incineration) and Farmers' Campaign, argue that emissions from the plant would pose an unacceptable risk to public health, and that an incinerator would lead to greatly increased traffic movements and remove any incentive to improve recycling rates across the county.
Cory Wheelabrator are expected to submit their applications for planning permission and an environmental permit in March. Decisions are expected in the winter.
People living in West Norfolk will get to have their say next month when the borough council holds a poll to determine their views, although, since the decision will be decided by the county council, the result will not be binding.
Ann Steward, cabinet member for sustainable development at Norfolk County Council, said: 'This project is about doing the right thing for Norfolk.
'The technology being proposed is in use all over Europe and in the UK. About 16 million people in the UK already live within 10 miles of an incinerator and it makes sense that Norfolk should also turn its waste into extra recycling and energy.
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'Where there are legitimate questions, they can be asked – and answered – through the formal processes that lie ahead of us. However, a proposal that is approved by the Environment Agency with input from NHS; is backed by hard cash from the Government; will deliver a 20pc increase in recycling rates and millions of pounds in savings for council taxpayers must be good for Norfolk.'
Dan Smyth, senior director at RPS, consultants for Cory Wheelabrator, said the plant would be regulated continuously through the Environment Agency's environmental permit.
'Ultimately, if the operator doesn't comply with the conditions of the permit they can close it down. It's in the interests of the operator to operate to the highest standards,' he said.
'The standards are set to meet the very high level of protection for people and the environment. Not only will the planning authority have to be satisfied there are no significant harmful effects, so will the Environment Agency in its determination of the environmental permit application.'
And he added: 'You are more likely to be murdered than to have a health effect that would result in a fatality from this type of facility.'
Mike Knights, who has an arable farm at Middleton, near King's Lynn, runs the Farmers' Campaign. He said: 'Having initially been persuaded that the technology would be safe, I've subsequently found there is a great deal to show that it won't be. There are good reasons to be concerned over public health and the impact on farms.
'I've seen examples of other modern incinerators that have released significant amounts of pollutants that we were told they wouldn't, including Dundee which was found to be releasing over 100 times the permitted level of dioxins and didn't receive a fine.'
And he said he had no faith in the Health Protection Agency's position that modern, well-run and regulated incin-erators posed no significant threat to public health since it was based on a report for Defra by consultants Enviros, whose core business includes helping incinerator projects win planning permission.
While the Conservative-run administration at County Hall is backing the project, its enthusiasm is not shared by opposition parties.
Tim East, Liberal Democrat spokesman for environment, roads, transport and waste, said: 'The Liberal Democrats are implacably opposed to incineration when there are alternatives that are environmentally-friendly, that don't pose a threat to public health and do the job just as well.'
Andrew Boswell, spokesman on environment and transport for the Green Party, said: 'The health issues with incineration, and with any type of burning, have not been properly sorted. There is conflicting research. There is no conclusive evidence that says incineration on that scale is safe.'
One of the most vocal critics of the plan has been Henry Bellingham, Conservative MP for North West Norfolk. He said: 'This is easily the biggest issue I have known in 30 years as a candidate and an MP.
'I was open-minded to start with and went to a number of meetings and listening to what the county council had to say and the case against. I think the county council have put a woefully poor case forward and my concern is threefold.
'If you are building a county-wide facility, you don't put it at the far western end of the county - that's just bad planning and plain barmy.
'There are bound to be extra vehicle movements and that is going to impact heavily on the communities of East and West Rudham, East and West Winch, Middleton and Setchey.
'Regarding the health implications, my instincts tell me it's going to be safe, but the county council, Cory Wheelabrator, the Environment Agency and NHS Norfolk all say very small micro- or nano-particles won't be filtered out. No-one has been able to say with absolute certainty that it will definitely not affect the health of people who has asthma, for example.
'I'd have thought on the precautionary principle alone, you don't put it upwind of the third biggest population centre in Norfolk.'
He said he would be asking Defra to extend the time limit on the �169m PFI credit it has given the county council, which would enable other options to be explored.
Elizabeth Truss, Conservative MP for South West Norfolk, said: 'I don't think there was enough consultation but one of the issues Norfolk faces is that different authorities are responsible for taking in waste and disposing of the waste. We need a proper end-to-end process to make sure recycling is increasing and that we're reducing the amount of waste - that's what I'm very keen to see happening as soon as possible.
'Then we need to look at the waste-to-energy plant and if it's needed. I'm in favour of extending the consultation process and looking at looking at the alternatives fully before any decision is made.'