Minister accused over King’s Lynn incinerator decision wait

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County council chiefs have accused the government of being “wholly unreasonable” in delaying a decision on the Lynn incinerator project.

The claim was made in a letter signed by three senior councillors, including leader George Nobbs, that was sent to communities secretary Eric Pickles this week.

But opponents have accused the trio of “glaring inaccuracies” and arguing the delay gives them the chance to pursue better alternatives.

In the meantime, ministers are still not indicating when a final decision will be reached.

Today marks two months since the date on which the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) had been expected to announce whether or not it would grant planning consent for the Saddlebow plant.

And, more than a year since the public inquiry into the scheme opened in Lynn, there is growing frustration within County Hall at the wait for a ruling.

In their letter, Labour’s Mr Nobbs, together with Liberal Democrat cabinet member James Joyce and Conservative environment scrutiny panel chairman Beverley Spratt, wrote: “It seems wholly unreasonable to withhold your decision, whatever your decision may be, in the knowledge that the County Council is prejudiced financially by the delay.

“We implore you to end the uncertainty for all concerned. Norfolk needs to know whether we will have to pay approximately £30 million in compensation to the contractors in the event of planning failure.

“The 840,000 people of Norfolk who depend on the services we provide deserve an answer.”

The letter concludes: “The absence of any clear reason or explanation for the delay is leading to suggestions locally that the decision is being delayed for political reasons, a rumour that we are sure you would wish to dispel just as strongly as we do.

“This protracted delay is damaging both to council taxpayers and the public faith in democracy.”

But a rival cross-party group, including West Norfolk councillors Richard Bird, Toby Coke, John Dobson and Alexandra Kemp, has dismissed that suggestion as “uncalled for and untrue.”

Their letter to Mr Pickles, also signed by Green member Andrew Boswell and Liberal Democrat Tim East, said of the delay: “It offers the council a further vote next month to come out of this now widely and publicly discredited contract altogether, with massive net savings, not costs, all of which will restore faith in the County Council’s processes.”

The group said Mr Nobbs and his colleagues did not speak for them or for the authority as a whole.

And they rejected the idea that the delay was costing the council money, pointing out that the budget agreed last month had allowed for compensation to be paid, if necessary, without impacting on services.

Asked to comment on the letters, a DCLG spokesman said: “A decision will be made by Ministers in due course.

“At present, Ministers are carefully considering all the evidence and detailed representations from a wide range of parties, following the receipt of the planning inspector’s report.”