Council leader denies claim lobbying over King’s Lynn incinerator was “inappropriate”
PUBLISHED: 12:08 02 April 2014 | UPDATED: 12:09 02 April 2014
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MPs were embroiled in another war of words with Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs, as it emerged one had accused him of “inappropriate” lobbying.
Comapny’s response to the news
Cory Wheelabrator, the company awarded the contract to build and run the incinerator, said it was “extremely disappointed” by the latest development.
In a statement, the company said: “We are naturally extremely disappointed by the recommendations in this report, particularly as many years of hard work have gone into this project by the consortium and Norfolk County Council. We believed that the public inquiry would have provided a fair hearing for all parties and that a decision would be based on pure planning grounds. We, and the industry, have also made it clear to government that planning delays to major infrastructure projects are costly and can jeopardise them and this project looks set to become yet another example.
“The delay to that planning decision has resulted in considerable costs to all parties at a time when public funds are already stretched. The fact still remains that there is no firm solution for the long-term management of Norfolk’s waste.”
Asked whether the company would now pull out of Norfolk, a spokesman added: “We wont be issuing any further statements at the present time.”
Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis said he had reported Mr Nobbs to a senior Whitehall official, claiming he had told him the council would spend more money in his constituency if he could speed up the decision over the King’s Lynn incinerator.
But Mr Nobbs dismissed the claim as “outrageous”, saying the timing of the matter being made public “smacked of desperation”.
Mr Lewis is under secretary of state in the Department for Communities and Local Government, under Communities Secretary Eric Pickles. The DCLG is overseen by permanent secretary Sir Bob Kerslake, a powerful civil servant.
Mr Nobbs, who is also the leader of the Labour group on the council, blamed Mr Pickles’s delay in reaching a decision over the controversial burner when it emerged on Monday that the plant was likely to be scrapped.
Norfolk-Suffolk waste link extended
An arrangement for Suffolk’s new incinerator to take waste from Norfolk could be extended after the decision to drop plans for an incinerator near Kings Lynn is confirmed.
Norfolk County Council has been at the centre of controversy for years over its plans to build the incinerator – and now officers have recommended the proposal is dropped.
We revealed in February that Suffolk was having talks about taking 30,000 tonnes of waste a year from Norfolk for a limited period once the incinerator – or energy from waste plant – starts operating at Great Blakenham later this year. Now it has emerged that this arrangement could be extended – although nothing firm has been decided.
Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee said: “I recognise the situation Norfolk are currently in and, as part of our Suffolk and Norfolk collaboration, I am keen to ensure that we can do what we can to assist them.
“Our energy from waste facility was built overwhelmingly for Suffolk’s waste, however, as
with any good planning, we
have built this with marginally more capacity than Suffolk’s needs.
“So it’s only our spare headroom that we can discuss with Norfolk and other potential customers who are expressing an interest.
“In light of the proposal to be considered by Norfolk’s cabinet... I’m sure there will be subsequent talks between ourselves and Norfolk.”
Mr Lewis said: “The last conversation I had with George Nobbs was when I reported him to the permanent secretary.
“You can’t have someone turn around to you and say if you speed up a decision I’ll spend more money in your constituency. It is completely inappropriate.
“I spoke to the permanent secretary who spoke to the chief exec at Norfolk County Council.
“Because it is Norfolk and I’m a Norfolk MP, I wouldn’t be involved because there is a conflict of interest and the government wouldn’t allow that.”
A spokesman for the DCLG confirmed Mr Lewis had spoken to the permanent secretary, adding: “Given that this is a live planning issue, it would be inapprpriate to comment further.”
But Mr Nobbs said: “I met Mr Lewis at a parliamentary reception on February 26 in company and thus well within the earshot of many others.
“Of course I was keen to stress to him what many, including the EDP, were also doing at the time - which was that Norfolk wanted a speedy decision from Mr Pickles in the hope that it could allow us to free up money that could be better spent on services for all Norfolk communities.
“At no time did I argue for a particular decision. I simply argued that a decision needed to be made one way or another – and Brandon Lewis knows that. I couldn’t resist pointing out that this would, of course, affect those in Great Yarmouth. As I recall it he and others around us laughed at the obvious dig at the time.
“Very recently and rather out of the blue, the Permanent Secretary did indeed call our acting MD to get her take on the local context. He said Mr Lewis had said he was being lobbied and wanted him to clarify that the planning decision was of course, a quasi judicial matter. He also spoke with me on the same lines in a perfectly equable manner.
“It is very odd that Mr Lewis should feel the need to make such a sensational claim at this precise time. It smacks of desperation.”
North-west Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said: “It’s all very well George Nobbs saying it’s all Eric Pickles’s fault. He’s got to realise he got elected on a manifesto commitment to stop the thing.
“We could have saved £10 - £15m and could be well on the way to a new system for dealing with Norfolk’s waste.”
Mr Bellingham said it was important for politicians to move forward together in the interest of the county. He said he would need a formal request from the county council to pursue the possibility of government money being made available towards the break costs of the contract.
But Mr Nobbs said Mr Bellingham did not need his formal permission to seek financial assistance.