Norfolk County Council chiefs to face incinerator cash grilling

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Norfolk County Council’s leadership is set to be grilled over its handling of the Lynn incinerator saga during a committee meeting today.

Two groups of councillors have challenged the decision to set aside millions of pounds towards the cost of ending the authority’s contract for the Saddlebow scheme if planning permission is refused.

The issue will be debated by the authority’s cabinet scrutiny committee when it meets in Norwich this morning.

And council leader George Nobbs, cabinet member for finance Steve Morphew and cabinet member for waste David Harrison have all been called to face questions.

Last month, the cabinet approved plans to set aside £8 million during the forthcoming financial year towards paying compensation to developers Cory Wheelabrator if the incinerator does not get planning consent.

If that is approved, the move will mean that £19 million of the expected bill has been accounted for.

But critics, led by division councillor Alexandra Kemp, say the council should be preparing to commission alternatives to the incinerator now.

Her challenge to the decision said: “Cabinet needs to consider a Plan B immediately to protect the Norfolk taxpayer from avoidable budget cuts to services.”

However, officials maintain that their approach was prudent as it assumes the financial consequences of planning failure, which they now warn are set to rise by another £5 million to £31 million if the issue is not resolved by the beginning of May.

But the second challenge, led by Conservative backbencher John Dobson, claimed: “The advice proffered by the officers and the approach decided by the Cabinet is grossly one-sided, narrow and restricted.”

He said council chiefs had ignored better alternatives for dealing with the penalty clauses, as well as what he claims are the financial benefits of rival waste schemes which he believes will be needed “if and when the mass-burn incinerator project has to be replaced.”