Public inquiry calls after plug finally pulled on Norfolk incinerator
06:00 08 April 2014
Archant Â© 2014
The plug has been pulled on the hugely controversial incinerator proposed for King’s Lynn, but there are now calls for a public inquiry to establish what went so wrong to leave a £610m project in tatters and taxpayers footing a multi-million pound compensation bill.
At an extraordinary meeting of Norfolk County Council yesterday, one of the most bitter sagas in Norfolk’s political history came to an abrupt end.
Councillors voted by 48 votes to 30 to terminate the contract with Cory Wheelabrator to build and run the plant proposed at Saddlebow – a decision which was then rubber stamped by the controlling Labour/Liberal Democrat cabinet.
The council will now have to make £8m worth of further savings to cover the likely £30m compensation cost to Cory Wheelabrator, which would have built and run the plant, described by one county councillor as the “rip off of the century”.
Councillors warned those savings would mean cuts to services – with officers set to present proposals next month – while millions more will have to be spent to find an alternative way to deal with the county’s waste.
Officers had recommended that the council terminate the contract, saying, following the delay in a decision on planning permission from communities secretary Eric Pickles, the plant no longer offered good value for money and pulling out later could lead to higher compensation costs –rising by £400,000 a month after May.
Steve Morphew, Labour cabinet member for finance, said the plug had to be pulled as a risk had turned into a gamble.
He said: “I am used to taking risks with public money, but I am not going to gamble and I think we have got to the point where this is a gamble.”
UKIP leader Toby Coke said it was time to abandon what he branded “the rip-off of the century”.
But Conservative leader Bill Borrett, and other senior Conservatives, had said the council should not pull out.
Mr Borrett said, contrary to what the officer report said, the plant still represented value for money and presented a graph to back up his argument.
He said: “The project offers value for money right up to 2017.
“We don’t need to rush into a decision today.”
Afterwards he defended his part in signing the contract saying he was happy the decision was a “sound one”.
He said the decision to scrap the contract was “premature” and the council should have waited for the decision from Mr Pickles on whether to allow planning permission.
Green leader Richard Bearman, said there needed to be a public inquiry into “who decided what and when”, a call which was echoed after the meeting by his fellow Green Andrew Boswell and Tim East, Liberal Democrat councillor for Costessey.
The council’s Labour leader George Nobbs was not convinced.
He said: “I really think we have had enough questions and spent enough public money on this issue.
“I will resist the temptation to point the finger of blame at members of the previous administration.”
He added: “It’s a sad day for Norfolk. I understand many in the west will want to rejoice and I wouldn’t want to deny them that, but it has come at a very heavy cost.
“We inherited this benighted contract from our predecessors. We have done our level best to give it a fair wind and have gone out of our way to urge Eric Pickles to make a decision.
“We do not make this decision lightly and need no lessons about responsibility from Mr Pickles.”
The £30m compensation bill consists of capped compensation to Cory Wheelabrator of £20.3m, contractor public inquiry costs of £1.6m and exchange rate and interest rate related costs of £8.36m.
The council had already spent £3.5m procuring the contract and £2m to buy the site at Saddlebow.
That means taxpayers will pay £35m in total with only a derelict site to show for it.
Do you think there needs to be a public inquiry? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk
Just who is to blame for massive bill? – Pages 6/7
Comment – Page 30