Pressure mounts for Eric Pickles to call-in Norfolk County Council’s King’s Lynn incinerator decision
Anti-incinerator campaigners have said it is essential that the government has the final say on the King's Lynn incinerator, after Norfolk County Council decided to approve plans for the plant.
At a meeting which lasted for more than seven hours, members of the county council's planning regulatory committee yesterday voted to grant planning permission for the Willows Power and Recycling Centre at Saddlebow.
Because of an intervention by communities secretary Eric Pickles, a decision notice for the plant cannot be issued until his department has decided whether to 'call in' the matter.
And that is exactly what campaigners against the incinerator, which Norfolk County Council's controlling Conservative cabinet has said is vital to deal with the county's waste, say must now happen after yesterday's decision.
Objectors told the meeting that the plant goes against planning policy, that peer-reviewed studies show a link between incinerators and poor health, the localism agenda is being ignored, people would rather see alternative technologies used, the site is in a flood risk area and, having already agreed to award the contract, the council's own planning committee could not be trusted to fairly and objectively consider the application.
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However, councillors voted by nine votes to four, with two abstaining, to grant permission for the incinerator, which would be run by Anglo-US consortium Cory Wheelabrator.
Elizabeth Truss, South West Norfolk MP, who has campaigned against the incinerator, said pressure was mounting on Mr Pickles to have the final say on the scheme.
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She said: 'I think it was encouraging that Eric Pickles specifically mentioned the fact that all nine MPs have asked for it to be called in.
'I cannot see why he would have done that if he was no thinking about calling it in. I have spoken to Mr Pickles this week and will put the point across to Bob Neil [parliamentary under secretary of state] when I see him next week. It's time to keep up the pressure.'
Campaigner Michael de Whalley said Mr Pickles should call in the decision to give people confidence in the final decision.
He said: 'I think we gave the community as good a representation as we possibly could. It's now for the secretary of state to decide if it's going to be approved or called in.
'That will have as long as it needs to discuss the agreement and we will have a discussion. The general public will have confidence in this decision. If we have no confidence it's a charade.'
Andrew Boswell, Green Party spokesman for environment, transport and development said: 'It is no surprise that the application has been approved when the planning committee is largely made up of the ruling Conservative group and that group has wanted the incinerator all along.
'The meeting produced a catalogue of uncertainties and unanswered questions in the application. These include the air quality model and carbon emission footprint being seriously flawed, the risks to public health and from flooding, and that the incinerator would prevent Norfolk using more innovative waste treatment methods and suppress our recycling rates.
'The government must get to the bottom of these, and it can only do so now by a full call-in.'
An often tense meeting sprang to life when North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham urged councillors to 'stand up for democracy' by not allowing an incinerator to be built at King's Lynn.
Ignoring calls from the planning committee chairman John Rogers to stop talking, after going over his allotted time limit, Mr Bellingham had called for the county council to live up to its At Your Service motto.
He said: 'One of the lessons of the Arab Spring and events in Europe such as Greece is that you defy democracy at your peril. What will happen is that people will lose trust in you. I ask you today to stand up for democracy.'
But, following the meeting, Graham Plant, cabinet member for planning and transportation, said: 'Members of the committee thoroughly examined the application and, after a full and frank debate, accepted officers' recommendations.
'The committee was satisfied that officers had addressed all relevant considerations and agreed that planning permission should be granted. This is, of course, subject to the Secretary of State's views.'
Bill Borrett, cabinet member for environment and waste, said he was 'relieved' at the decision and said it was 'another step on the way'.
He said: 'I believe that this proposal has been subjected to the most intensive scrutiny, by the planning process, the public, the Environment Agency and DEFRA, which has approved the largest grant Norfolk has received for a single project.
'I have been very keen that we do everything by the book, so I welcome the secretary of state's interest.'
Speaking after the meeting, John Bolden, Cory's director of planning and communications, said: 'We are very pleased.
'We've been working for a very long time on the proposal doing all the work for the environmental assessments for some 21 months.
'We've always been very confident in the work we have been doing to satisfy the statutory authorities and bodies.
'In terms of the way forward, we have to wait for the secretary of state. If he decides not to call it in we will get planning permission from Norfolk County Council.
'If he decides he does call it in, we go through the whole public inquiry process.
'On the assumption we get permission and make the next step forward, we want to work with the local community.'
Mr Bolden said he would like to create a committee involving community representatives to keep them informed about what is happening with the project.