December 9 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Sending Norfolk’s waste to be burnt in Amsterdam would negate the need to build an incinerator near King’s Lynn, councillors have claimed.
A group of councillors who want the plug to be pulled on Norfolk County Council’s plans to build an incinerator at Saddlebow revealed at a press conference today that a group had approached councillors with an alternative plan.
And they said it demonstrates how pressing the need is for the full council to be given a vote on whether to proceed with the hugely controversial contract with Cory Wheelabrator.
The councillors, including UKIP group leader Toby Coke and Conservative John Dobson, said a company called Rebel Group had offered to deal with the county’s waste - for less than the cost of council contractor Cory Wheelabrator incinerating it in Norfolk.
Mr Coke revealed two reports, one by Dr Chris Edwards, a senior fellow at the University of East Anglia, and one by waste industry consultants Eunomia.
Mr Coke said the reports “illustrate to the public, members and national government the folly of going ahead with the Willows incinerator project.”
He said the report by Dr Edwards, which does not explicitly state that the Rebel Group offer should be pursued, concludes there is no financial incentive for the county council to terminate the contact with Cory Wheelabrator while the government continues to offer £169m in waste credits for the plant.
Mr Coke said that showed the council needed to have a vote to call for the government to withdraw those waste credits.
Mr Coke said Eunomia’s report “validates” the Rebel Group offer and backs up the need for the full council to finally debate the issue over whether the incinerator at King’s Lynn should go ahead.
The council is waiting to hear whether the secretary of state will ratify its decision to grant planning permission.
But in the summer, the potential multi-million pound bill to Norfolk County Council for ripping up the contract was revealed in a report drawn up by council officers in the summer.
It had long been known there is a compensation clause capped at £20.3m in the contract, should the £596m plant fail to secure planning permission, but officers say the cost could be far higher if it collapses for other reasons.
While they stopped short of putting a figure on what that bill would be, they said the £80m to £90m cost produced for Cornwall Council when considering abandoning its contract provides “a useful indication” as to the bill.
In the summer, it also emerged a draft revised project plan was submitted in April.
That was lodged because the original longstop date – a contractual condition giving a date by which a contractual condition or set of conditions has to be met – would be missed because of the public inquiry into the granting of planning permission for the plant.
But Mr Coke said it was time for councillors to vote on whether to demand the withdrawal of the waste grant and to reject the revised project plan - effectively pulling the plug on the incinerator contract.
He said: “I must emphasise that the Rebel Group is only one option available to the council. There may well be other cheaper options or a combination thereof, including extending existing contracts, but the Rebel Group proposal was selected as the comparator as it could deal with all of Norfolk’s waste, does not require government subsidy, could be up and running within a year and, most importantly, that it is beneficial to taxpayers both in Norfolk and the UK.
“Last Monday, I wrote to the chairman, supported by four other members, calling for an extraordinary general meeting of the council to be held on October 21 to debate whether the council should reject or accept the revised project plan and the decision so taken to be conveyed to cabinet as a recommendation.
“This date is not written in stone, any date prior to October 29 will suffice and I will be discussing this further with the leader and chairman.
“If cabinet decides to uphold a council decision to reject the revised project plan then compensation costs are capped at £20.3m.
“If the motion fails the only hope of stopping the incinerator is if the Secretary of State withdraws planning permission, but this is a gamble, as opposed to the path we are following which is certain if council votes accordingly and cabinet upholds that decision.”
With the council’s solicitors having previously warned that even discussing the issue could increase the chances of Cory Wheelabrator suing the council, Mr Coke conceded it was a risky strategy.
He said: “There are risks in everything and I am sure that Cory Wheelabrator will sue the council, but whether they succeed or not is another matter.
“In the real world, the first thing that will happen is that the two sides will negotiate. You should be aware of the capped £20.3m, almost half is due to three banks, including RBS and Lloyds, in arrangement and management fees and I am sure negotiation would result in the final costs heading in the right direction.
“I am therefore urging the media, public, members and officers to call upon their MPs to demand withdrawal of the waste infrastructure grant for the Willows incinerator and to urge their councillors to vote to reject the revised project plan in the debate at the end of this month.
“After all, what is the point of adding to the nation’s debt to subsidise an otherwise uneconomic project, the more so in these times of austerity where central government are cutting funding to Councils throughout the country.”
Conservative John Dobson, who is also part of the group, and originally called in the decision by his fellow Conservatives to approve the incinerator contract, said: “This £600m project has never even been debated in full council and it has poisoned Norfolk politics for the last three years and will continue to do so, unless there is a complete re-think based on the proposals.”
George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council, which is run by a Labour/Liberal Democrat administration, said afterwards: “It is hard to argue with Mr Coke that the time has come for this matter to be resolved once and for all.
“Accordingly, I spoke to the council’s chairman before the press conference and advised her that I think it would be appropriate to call a full meeting of the council - I prefer the date of October 28 for practical reasons - to consider the two reports which the cabinet had commissioned, the waste and minerals strategy and to make a recommendation on the issue of the planning long-stop date.
“I have also suggested to the chairman a motion to this effect which I think members will be able to vote for or against.
“I would like to thank Mr Coke or the courteous way he has conducted himself in this business.”