A new political row has broken out after it emerged that a government inspector had recommended that planning permission was granted for the controversial Lynn incinerator.
Last month, Cory Wheelabrator finally withdrew its application to develop the Saddlebow site, signalling the final victory of local campaigners.
But it has now emerged that planning inspector Elizabeth Hill recommended that the scheme should be allowed to go ahead in September 2013, four months after the public inquiry she chaired ended.
Her 287-page report has now been published under Environmental Information Regulations, similar to the Freedom of Information Act.
The request was made by King’s Lynn Without Incineration (KLWIN) founder Michael de Whalley, who admitted it made for “fairly bleak reading.”
But he added: “It was important for us to know what she felt.”
In the document, Mrs Hill said “some limited weight” should be given to objectors’ concerns over health, but concluded there would be no significant environmental, air quality or flood risk implications of the plant being built.
She said the plan also met national planning and energy policy guidelines, despite critics’ arguments that there was no customer for the energy to be produced.
And she concluded: “I recommend that planning permission is granted for an energy from waste and recycling facility at Willows Business Park.”
The report was submitted to communities secretary Eric Pickles for a final decision, which had not come before the application was withdrawn in January.
That came after Norfolk County Council had both terminated its contract with Cory Wheelabrator last spring, triggering a £33.7 million compensation bill, and ruled out incineration as a future method for dealing with Norfolk’s waste in December.
Its leader, George Nobbs, said the report’s publication was another chapter of a “sad, sorry saga.”
And Toby Coke, chairman of the authority’s environment, development and transport committee, added: “It’s perfectly clear that there was a political agenda being followed in delaying the planning inspector’s report and council taxpayers in Norfolk have been left with a huge bill as a result.
“All the talk about Mr Pickles carefully considering the arguments have been exposed for what they were – complete rubbish.
“Eric Pickles should do the honourable thing and stump up the £33.7 million that his delay has cost Norfolk taxpayers.”
But local government minister Kris Hopkins said claims of a political agenda delaying a decision were “inaccurate and unfair.”
He said: “The decision to call-in the application was made after representations from 23 Members of Parliament and Peers, 48 local parish councils and 5,800 locally signed letters.
“On top of the volume of representations, this was an extremely complex case, where the facts, planning policy and planning guidance changed during the consideration of the case.”
And, in a letter to Mr de Whalley, Tom Clifford, an official in the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said any decision would have taken account of developments since Mrs Hill’s report was completed.
Mr de Whalley said the government deserved credit for not accepting the recommendations and giving greater weight to local public opinion.
North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said the inspector’s report was “irrelevant” following the withdrawal of the application.
He added: “Everyone has worked together on a non-party political basis to get the matter sorted.
“We have got to where we wanted to get to and we now have to move on.”
But Labour election candidate Jo Rust said the report suggested that MPs’ lobbying to stop the incinerator had been “totally ineffectual.”
She also defended the Labour-led county coalition’s handling of the affair, pointing out it had made the decision to halt the deal and insisting it had done the best it could in the circumstances.