Plans to take hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax revenues from West Norfolk to help pay the Lynn incinerator compensation bill have been shelved – for now.
The U-turn was signalled ahead of a meeting of Norfolk County Council today where plans for how the final bill for exiting the contract with Cory Wheelabrator will be paid are set to be discussed.
But County Hall officials have warned that the current arrangements may well need to be changed in future years.
And the authority’s leadership has been accused of missing a golden opprtunity to reduce the financial burden by selling the Saddlebow site to West Norfolk Council.
As previously reported, county officers had been considering keeping around £1 million of the council tax receipts from second homes, which would normally be returned to district councils, to help pay the estimated £33.7 million compensation bill.
But that provoked a furious reaction from district council leaders, who accused the county of trying to make them pay for a contract they had not signed.
In a report to today’s meeting, published on Friday, Peter Timmins, the county council’s interim head of finance, said the new plan would mean the county met the whole of the compensation payment.
But he added: “Given the stark funding position for the next few years, the authority will need to build on the very constructive discussions of the past few days, and work collaboratively with district partners to consider the proposals signalled in this year’s budget to change the current arrangements for 2015/16 and 2016/17.”
At present, around half of the council tax collected from second homes in West Norfolk, around £1.5 million per year, is retained by the borough council.
Under the new proposals, a total of £2.15 million will be taken from reserves, savings made from new waste service arrangements and a further £500,000 contributionby the council-owned Norse group.
But independent group leader Alexandra Kemp, whose Clenchwarton and Lynn South division includes the incinerator site, claimed the council’s outgoing cabinet had “flunked” the chance to sell the site to the borough council by deferring the issue at its final meeting last week.
The proposal is now expected to be looked at by the new environment and policy and resources committees when they meet for the first time next month.
But supporters of the sale idea maintain that it would help to rebuild trust between West Norfolk and the county council, while also helping to meet the financial burden left behind by the termination of the contract.
And Miss Kemp said: “This fudge won’t help the county council rebuild the trust it so desperately needs. There is a long, long way to go.”
Meanwhile, Stephen Revell, the man appointed to lead an inquiry into the incinerator saga, has set out the terms of reference for the investigation.
The inquiry will look at all relevant political and technical issues, including the role of councillors, why the full council was not consulted before the contract was signed and outside political influences.
Anyone wishing to take part in the inquiry has until June 19 to submit any evidence.