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Norfolk incinerator vote sparks anger

PUBLISHED: 11:00 08 March 2011 | UPDATED: 12:30 08 March 2011

Protests outside County Hall ahead of the crunch decision on the incinerator at King's Lynn.

Protests outside County Hall ahead of the crunch decision on the incinerator at King's Lynn.

Archant Norfolk 2011

Plans for a controversial incinerator in Norfolk have taken a massive step forward after councillors agreed to award the contract, but they did so amid accusations of riding roughshod over the will of more than 65,000 people.

"“It’s a very dark day for democracy. I’m very angry, I don’t think 62,000 people in West Norfolk will take this lying down.”"

Henry Bellingham, Conservative MP for North West Norfolk

The ruling cabinet on Norfolk County Council yesterday agreed to award the contract for an incinerator at Saddlebow in King’s Lynn to Anglo-US company Cory Wheelabrator.

But, coming just days after a poll carried out by West Norfolk and King’s Lynn Borough Council saw the proposals overwhelmingly opposed, one Norfolk MP branded the decision as “a very dark day for democracy”.

In making their decision, the council said that poll had been discredited because information which had been given to families was inaccurate.

However, Henry Bellingham, North West Norfolk MP, said he would ask the government to call-in the plans for the incinerator, once submitted, because he feels Norfolk County Council should not now be allowed to make the final decision to grant planning permission.

Once the contract is signed, which is likely to happen in the next couple of weeks, it would enact a clause which means the council could be liable for £10m to £20m if the scheme does not go ahead.

Mr Bellingham said: “It’s a very dark day for democracy. I’m very angry, I don’t think 62,000 people in West Norfolk will take this lying down.

“We’re moving into uncharted territory here. People have put their faith in the democratic process and if they’re trampled on and ignored the consequences will cover the whole of Norfolk.

“I’m going to work tirelessly to defeat this ill-conceived project.”

Protesters had gathered outside the County Hall meeting, waving placards saying the Big Society had spoken, while Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk and King’s Lynn Borough Council, made an impassioned plea for the cabinet not to approve the contract award.

He said: “The time for debate about, safety, transport, economics is over. It is irrelevant. We have a duty to our electorate to find another solution - one that is acceptable to them.

“West Norfolk does not want this. If you go ahead you will be challenged every inch of the way. That will be time consuming and costly.

“Please, please listen to the people who gave us their trust – they now give us their demand to drop this and think again.”

But cabinet members, through a string of questions to officers, identified what they said were inaccuracies in the literature distributed with the West Norfolk council poll.

Bill Borrett, cabinet member for efficiency, asked Mr Daubney if the information distributed with the poll had been checked for accuracy by the borough council.

He was told the borough council had invited submissions and had “no wish to edit” the information.

Mike Jackson, director of environment, transport and development, said the council had not been able to contribute information to that poll because it would have been prejudicial, while the borough council had decided not to use “pre-existing material” offered by the authority.

He said: “It’s fair to say we have been frustrated the debate has not been fully informed. That will come forward as part of the planning and permit process.

“There is information which is misleading and we hope the planning process will give us the opportunity to put that right.”

Mr Borrett said the poll asked people if they were against a “mass burn incinerator” rather than an incinerator which produces energy from waste, which is what the council says the Cory Wheelabrator plant would be.

He said: “Councillor Daubney came here with a very impressive local referendum and I am in favour of local democracy.

“To come to this meeting with 65,000 voting against the idea of an incinerator is a very powerful message and something I take extremely seriously.

“But I have to say, though, that I am really disappointed with the quality of what was done, because I feel it will discredit future polls in Norfolk.

“I have been through most of the points on the official document sent to homes with the crest of the borough council on the top and from the information we have received today I have been told most of the information was not correct.

“If I’d read this, I’d have voted against an incinerator, as would most of Norfolk. Quite honestly, it’s incredibly compelling, but the trouble is it does not appear to be true.”

Before going to the vote, council leader Derrick Murphy told his cabinet colleagues: “We are making a decision which will affect the next generation of people in Norfolk.
“It is going to involve a huge amount of public money and it may or may not have political repercussions for you individually.

“We have to make the decision we think is best based on what we have been told and based on the alternatives.”

The whole cabinet agreed to approve the award of the contract to Cory Wheelabrator, apart from David Harwood, cabinet member for adult social services, who abstained.

The council has secured £169m of PFI credits from the government to help pay for the project, which if approved is expected to process 170,000 tonnes of household waste and a further 90,000 tonnes of commercial waste.

The council says the cost to taxpayers over the life of the 25-year scheme is less than £500m.

A spokesman for Cory Wheelabrator said: “We are delighted that Norfolk County Council has approved the award of the Waste PFI contract to Cory Wheelabrator.

“In making this decision, Norfolk County Council’s cabinet has underlined its confidence in the proposed Willows Power & Recycling Centre and confirmed our belief that Cory Wheelabrator’s proposals are the best and most cost-effective solution for managing Norfolk’s residual waste in the long term.

“We recognise that the decision is one step in a detailed process, and the next stage for us is to submit planning and environmental permit applications in the spring.

“We are of course fully aware that residents, particularly in the King’s Lynn area, have concerns about the proposed facility.

“In the coming months we will strengthen our existing community engagement and consultation programmes in order to engage further with key stakeholders and local people and do all we can to allay these concerns.”

Cory Wheelabrator’s own survey of 1,700 people showed 65pc of people across Norfolk were in favour of the plant.

Opposition councillors have indicated they are ready to call in yesterday’s decision to the cabinet scrutiny committee.

Here is some of the reaction to the decision:

Elizabeth Truss, South West Norfolk MP, said: “I am very disappointed that this decision has been taken, which I do not support.

“Local people have clearly spoken and should be listened to. I ask again that waste authorities in the county work together to deliver budget savings by driving up recycling performance as an alternative to this proposal. There is still the planning stage to go through and I expect to see a robust scrutiny of this application.”

Mike Knights, (pictured), of King’s Lynn Against Incineration Farmers’ Campaign, said: “The whole meeting’s been a pre-rehearsed pantomime. We’ve had the chair and councillors feeding rehearsed questions to the officers, giving them every opportunity to discredit the poll and trampling on the democratic principles. I think it’s very likely we’ll end up going through the courts at every level until we win.

“I don’t imagine the 65,000-plus people that voted are going to take this lightly. We’re just warming up.

“It rubbishes the idea of democracy.”

Richard Burton, an independent environmental consultant, who was at the meeting, said: “We haven’t had a debate on this project. What we’ve had is a stage-managed and, what looked like, a rehearsed sham.

“It was obvious many of the questions were planned. It was obviously a foregone conclusion. They chose to attack the referendum question on the basis that the term ‘mass burn incinerator’ was used.

“They claimed it undermined the whole referendum. It’s used by people in the waste industry to describe exactly this sort of project.”

Andrew Boswell, Green county councillor, said: “The decision taken today sets the strategy or policy in motion for at least 25 years, and it sets a policy in motion which is not good. The incinerator’s not good on environmental issues and not good for public health either. It’s emitting particulates and there’s no definitive research which says that’s not harmful. There’s quite a lot of evidence that says it can cause cancer and birth defects. I don’t think we know the answer there. It’s particularly unfair to the people of King’s Lynn, they’re having this put on the outskirts of an urban area without those questions being answered.”

George Nobbs, leader of the Labour group, said: “I am astonished. I thought that Mr Murphy’s behaviour was extraordinary. He was like a man possessed. When you have 64,500 people voting no, you must listen to the voice of the people. To do anything else is a farce.”

Paul Morse, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “As a group we’ve had concerns about the technology, the health side of it. Certainly what the cabinet did in a very stage-managed way was clearly lay out the reasons why they believe the incinerator is needed. The poll, in a way, was almost the borough against the county. It’s just a mess really. There are discussions going on about calling it in. There are discussions with the Greens, but I’m not involved in those as I’m going to be chairing the meeting. If it’s going to be called-in a decision has to be made by next Monday.”

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