Council warned of ‘cover-up’ suspicions over King’s Lynn burner inquiry halt

Willows Business Park Saddlebow, King's Lynn

Land in the foreground is the proposed site for the incinerator ENGANL00120131018142016
Willows Business Park Saddlebow, King's Lynn Land in the foreground is the proposed site for the incinerator ENGANL00120131018142016
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An inquiry into what went wrong with the Lynn incinerator project must be completed in order to avoid claims of a cover-up, a councillor has warned.

Last month, it emerged the investigation might never be completed after the man appointed to conduct it told Norfolk County Council chiefs he could not force people to give evidence.

And the authority’s current leader suggested it would be a “waste of money” to continue the probe.

But a motion before the council’s meeting on Monday will demand that the inquiry continues and a target date of January 31 next year is set for a report to be published.

The motion has been put forward by Dersingham councillor John Dobson, a long-time critic of the scheme who has offered to continue the inquiry process himself.

He argues it is vital that the inquiry is completed in order to preserve the authority’s reputation.

The motion added: “It would be difficult to imagine that any comparable body in local government, government or elsewhere in the public sector, undertaking multi-million pound procurements, would be able to abandon a follow-up inquiry in similar circumstances without attracting suspicions of a ‘cover-up.’”

The council voted to terminate its contract with Cory Wheelabrator in the spring of 2014, following years of campaigning by people from across West Norfolk against the scheme.

That decision cost the authority around £34 million in compensation payments to the consortium, though finance officials at the time argued it would have ended up costing taxpayers even more to continue with the deal.

Following the authority’s vote to terminate the contract, former councillor Stephen Revell was appointed to look into its handling of the project.

He was asked to look at three issues: how and why the authority found itself in that situation, how and why the decision to end the contract was reached and the effect of outside political involvement in helping or hindering the fulfilment of the deal.

However, last month, Mr Revell wrote to the council’s current leader, Cliff Jordan, informing him that he could not complete the investigation as he did not have the power to compel people to co-operate with him.

He said that meant there was a risk that any report he compiled would be based on “incomplete and potentially biased evidence.”

In response, Mr Jordan called for the debate to “move on” and focus on how the county will deal with its waste in the future.

But Mr Dobson said there were concerns about what he described as a “lack of transparency” surrounding the decision to end the inquiry.

He added: “Members are worried lest the reputation of this council be put at risk if a proper inquiry process into the massive loss of taxpayers’ money caused by the cancelling of the incinerator project is not pursued to satisfactory completion.”