POLL: Money well spent..? King’s Lynn incinerator inquiry could cost Norfolk councils £500,000 - or even more...

The first day of the public inquiry at the Corn Exchange in King's Lynn. Picture: Matthew Usher.

The first day of the public inquiry at the Corn Exchange in King's Lynn. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

The public inquiry into a proposed incinerator for King's Lynn is set to cost two Norfolk councils more than £500,000, the EDP can reveal.

Councillors have been told the £250,000 that West Norfolk Council set aside to cover its legal costs has now been spent and at least another £150,000 will be needed.

A report to April 9's cabinet meeting blames the increase on delays and changes to the programme for the inquiry, which has 'lengthened considerably' since it began.

'Whilst this in itself is not unusual in an inquiry of this complex and high profile nature, it has resulted in a significant increase in the costs falling to the Borough,' the report added.

Although there is 'still some uncertainty about the final cost', council staff 'estimate that the total cost is likely to be in the region of £400,000', the report said.

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Brian Long, deputy leader of the council, said increasing the budget was a 'necessary evil' if the council was to continue its fight against the incinerator on behalf of the public.

'Whilst we don't want to spend public money on solicitors and other costs, we feel passionately that we can't enter into an inquiry and not follow it through,' he said.

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Council leader Nick Daubney added: 'We fought to get this public inquiry. Having got it, we need to be able to complete it.'

As the inquiry got under way at King's Lynn Corn Exchange, on March 5, Norfolk County Council, which is behind the incinerator project, said it expected to be landed with a legal bill of more than £110,000.

As well as its own legal costs, which are almost certain to have risen on a par with West Norfolk's, the county council is also paying 90pc of developer Cory Wheelabrator's costs once these exceed an undisclosed 'five figure sum'.

County council leader Bill Borrett, (pictured), said his authority was still committed to the inquiry.

'Everyone wanted a public inquiry,' said Mr Borrett. 'If we've got to have a public inquiry, we need to do it properly and it is entirely right for the borough council to invest in the necessary resources to have this done properly.'

If the incinerator gets the go ahead, the savings generated by the project would cover the legal costs, he said –although he admitted the county council was taking a 'risk' if the inspector ruled in the objectors' favour.

Mike Knights, vice-chairman of King's Lynn Without Incineration (KLWIN), said the spiralling price was the fault of Norfolk County Council and the applicants Cory Wheelabrator for 'trying to drive this project forward'.

'It's about time the county council backed off and just dumped the whole incinerator project and stopped taking us down the wrong road,' he added.

'It's entirely the county council's fault that so much money has been spent and will continue to be spent. If we'd gone for a cheaper and more environmental alternative and turned our back on Cory Wheelabrator, it would have saved a lot of money and anger.'

Mr Knights revealed that his team is also struggling with the longer- than-expected timetable. KLWIN has not yet spent the £25,000 it set aside for the inquiry, but he said: 'It's certainly going to cost us more than originally anticipated.'

However, while he said 'life is definitely easier for those with deeper pockets', he added: 'It doesn't mean they're going to get the recommendation they are hoping for.

'As long as we can sustain it, there is every reason to think that because we've got solid arguments, we could and should be able to have the recommendation go our way. We are very much the underdog, but that doesn't mean we can't carry on fighting and winning.'

The inquiry, which resumes tomorrow, is expected to continue until the end of this month.

Once she has heard all of the evidence from both sides and other parties, inspector Elizabeth Hill will make a recommendation to communities secretary Eric Pickles on whether or not the plant should go ahead.

Mr Pickles triggered the inquiry when he called in the county council's decision to award planning permission to the incinerator.

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