Burnt out! How West Norfolk fought the incinerator and won

Anti-incinerator campaigners board the bus for Norwich. ANL-140704-093501001
Anti-incinerator campaigners board the bus for Norwich. ANL-140704-093501001
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After five years and tens of millions of pounds, the Lynn incinerator saga can now, finally, be consigned to history.

Thursday’s announcement that Cory Wheelabrator had withdrawn its application for the Saddlebow site was the final victory for a community that had consistently said no to them.

Public inquiry on the proposed King's Lynn Incinerator starts at King's Lynn Corn Exchange. ENGANL00120130226131739

Public inquiry on the proposed King's Lynn Incinerator starts at King's Lynn Corn Exchange. ENGANL00120130226131739

It was a fight that, from the corridors of power at County Hall, went to the High Court and a public inquiry and re-drew Norfolk’s political map in a way that few could ever have foreseen.

Michael de Whalley, founder of King’s Lynn Without Incineration, which led the campaign, said: “The incinerator was a “done deal”, yet our community banded together to beat it. With perseverance, our community can achieve similar successes over other issues.”

But that victory seemed a long way off in the spring of 2011 when, despite 65,516 West Norfolk residents – more than 92 per cent of those taking part – voting against the incinerator in a local poll, Norfolk County Council still decided to award a contract for the plant.

A legal challenge to that decision, brought in Mr de Whalley’s name, was rejected by a High Court judge, while anti-incinerator candidates failed to make too much of an impression in that year’s local council elections.

Incinerator hearing takes place at The Royal Courts of Justice, London.LtoR - Lynn News reporter Victoria Fear, News Editor Allister Webb, Norfolk County Councillor for the Green Party, Andrew Boswell, Enviromental Consultant Richard Burton, Michael De Whalley, Mike Knights and Alan Castleton. ENGANL00120110512150129

Incinerator hearing takes place at The Royal Courts of Justice, London.LtoR - Lynn News reporter Victoria Fear, News Editor Allister Webb, Norfolk County Councillor for the Green Party, Andrew Boswell, Enviromental Consultant Richard Burton, Michael De Whalley, Mike Knights and Alan Castleton. ENGANL00120110512150129

And, when the county’s planning committee voted to approve the application for the plant in the summer of 2012, hopes of stopping the plan appeared to be fading.

But those hopes were revived when communities secretary Eric Pickles ordered a public inquiry in August of that year.

And, when the Conservatives lost control of the county council in May 2013, followed by the withdrawal of key government funding, it appeared that campaigners were closer than ever to victory.

A vote to terminate the contract was lost in October, but only narrowly, and the momentum was now firmly with the campaigners.

The issue returned to the County Hall agenda last spring but, crucially, where officers had previously said it still made sense to go ahead with the plant, they now told members it was no longer financially viable to do so.

Yet, despite councillors voting to terminate the contract in April 2014, the story was still not over.

A letter from a senior council official to the government urging them to grant planning permission sparked fury among objectors and councillors.

And, despite the end of the contract, Cory Wheelabrator remained determined to secure planning permission. Until last week.

The question of how Norfolk best deals with its waste will not go away. But the demise of the Lynn incinerator shows that those charged with bringing forward future plans ignore the views of those they claim to serve at their peril.