Today is the opening day of the public inquiry for the King’s Lynn incinerator. We won’t be hearing any detailed evidence, but each side will be outlining its core arguments and we should get some more clarity on the procedure. Given that this is probably the best, and, last opportunity to stop the incinerator it could be a crucial meeting and I ‘ll be trying to tweet live from the Corn Exchange – you can follow me at @JonahOliver or using the #klinc hashtag.
Tag Archives: incinerator
Regular readers of this blog will know that Norfolk County Council has hardly achieved a good reputation for upholding the principles of localism and democracy. In March the Cabinet of the County Council decided to grant a £600 million contract for an incinerator near King’s Lynn to Cory Wheelabrator, despite a West Norfolk-wide referendum that found 93% of residents were against the plan. Even when the formal planning process showed that 97% of responses were objections to the plan the County Council refused to reject the plan.
So, it was something of a surprise when, dredging through old NCC press releases I found this, from 23rd September;
“Councillor Tom Garrod has been appointed to the new role of Deputy Cabinet Member for the Voluntary Sector and Localism on Norfolk County Council.”
Not too controversial, you may think, but it gets worse;
“Complementing the role with the voluntary sector, the new deputy cabinet portfolio also provides a higher profile for the localism agenda. Localism is the term being used to describe a shift away from the state to communities and aims to help people become more informed and involved in decisions affecting their area and about greater transparency for how public money is used.”
There’s even a quote from Derrick Murphy, Leader of the Council and key proponent of the incinerator;
“Derrick Murphy, Leader of Norfolk County Council and Cabinet Member for Transformation, said: “Tom has boundless energy and a real desire to serve the community, listen to people’s views and respond and make improvements, and I feel very fortunate that he wants to take on these responsibilities for the good of our county. This new role will give the council an even stronger link to voluntary and community organisations, and this will be of real benefit to many people in Norfolk.
“As part of our new core role as a council, we want to enable others to build and maintain strong, sustainable and caring communities. This is not something that the council can impose on communities – it needs to happen from the bottom up, and I have no doubt that in this role Tom will be able to promote this idea and help us better understand what we can do to help bring this about.””
So, not only have Norfolk County Council blatantly ignored the wishes of 65,516 West Norfolk residents, but they’re brazen enough to state how much they support localism and getting more people “involved in decisions affecting their area”. The only question left is when will Cllr. Garrod take up the case of the incinerator and “serve the community, listen to people’s views and respond and make improvements”? Sadly it seems Norfolk County Council only wants localism when it suits them.
If you’re wondering what I’m referring to, you can read the full story of what happened yesterday on my last blog. Basically, the Lib Dems walked out of full council at County Hall because of the disgraceful conduct of the meeting, and the way they were not allowed to reply to a closure motion on their own motion or ask points of order. However, Norfolk County Council appears to believe that this was all constitutional and that nothing was wrong with the meeting. Having looked through the constitution I have to disagree. As far as I can see yesterday’s meeting was a serious breach of the constitution. I lay out why below.
- In yesterday’s meeting the Chair refused to take points of order from Labour, Lib Dem and Green councillors. However, Appendix 9 12.12 of the NCC constitution states;
“A member may raise a point of order at any time. The chairman will hear them immediately.”
- Paul Morse, the Lib Dem group leader and proposer of the original motion was only allowed to get a few sentences into his introduction before he was interrupted by the closure motion, but Appendix 9 12.4 is clear that;
“Speeches must be directed to the question under discussion or to a personal explanation or point of order. No speech may exceed 5 minutes without the consent of the chairman”
- Furthermore, the closure motion was introduced before Cllr. Morse had finished his speech, despite the fact that Appendix 9 12.11 a) says that;
“A member may move, without comment, the following motions at the end of a speech of another member”
- Once the closure motion was put Cllr. Morse was not even allowed a right of reply, even though Appendix 9 12.11 b) states that;
“If a motion to proceed to next business is seconded and the chairman thinks the item has been sufficiently discussed, he or she will give the mover of the original motion a right of reply and then put the procedural motion to the vote.”
That’s four points where I believe that the Norfolk County Council constitution was breached. How can the decisions the council took be legitimate when they were so profoundly against the constitution? They can’t and that’s why I hope as many people as possible will make formal objections to NCC, asking for the decision to be struck down and the motion heard again. This is no way to run a county, and the people of Norfolk must hold their representatives to account.
As many of you will already have heard today was Norfolk County Council’s full council meeting, which every member can attend. Up for debate was a motion tabled by Paul Morse, the leader of the Lib Dem group at County Hall, which called for an independent investigation into the process that led to the procurement of the King’s Lynn incinerator. The text of the motion is here;
“This Council is concerned that the behaviour of the
Council Leader and Cabinet Members within the decision
making process for the award of the contract to build an
incinerator at Saddlebow is bringing Norfolk County Council
into disrepute, and has not met the standards of open &
transparent decision making expected by the people of
Norfolk. In particular, though not exclusively, this Council is
concerned about proceedings at the March 7th Cabinet, the
impact of any decisions made at the Conservative Group
Meeting three days earlier and any pressure exerted
upon members of Cabinet Scrutiny Committee.
This Council therefore instructs the Chief Executive to initiate a
full, public and independent investigation by an appropriately
qualified independent body into the behaviour of the Council
Leader and the Cabinet in this entire process. Should this
investigation establish that at any point the Council Leader or
any Cabinet Member misled the public or Councillors or that
they did not act in accord with the Constitution, they
should relinquish their position with immediate effect.”
There was some debate about the wording, but all the opposition groups and most anti-incinerator campaigners agreed with the intent. However, no one really expected it to be passed because of the huge Conservative majority (38 seats).
What actually happened, though, was quite a shock. The debate on the motion started with the whole cabinet and Janet Murphy, the leader’s wife, declaring a prejudicial interest as they were implicated in the motion, or related to someone who was. David White, the chief executive (not strangely Victoria MacNeill, the head of law) then gave his legal opinion that the debate should not go ahead because it would damage NCC’s defence against the ongoing judicial review. As we will see below that claim is largely nonsense.
However, what came next was a real surprise. Roger Smith, a loyal Tory backbencher put forward a closure motion, which would mean that the Lib Dems’ motion would be ignored, and the council would move on to the next item on the agenda, even though the motion hadn’t been introduced by Paul Morse! This was immediately pointed out by George Nobbs, the Labour group leader, forcing the Chair, Shelagh Hutson, to reluctantly allow Morse to talk, but only if he introduced the motion and didn’t speak in support of it, a rather impossible task.
He had only just started speaking, explaining how Norfolk County Council’s defence in the judicial review couldn’t possibly be compromised by the debate or an independent investigation, as long as the people concerned had told the truth and continued to do so, when the chief executive advised the Chair that the closure motion meant that Paul Morse wasn’t even allowed to speak for the five minutes the constitution allowed.
About this time councillors from Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens started trying to put points of order to the Chair, but after the first few these were declined. Everyone I’ve spoken to, including current councillors, said it was almost unprecedented in local government for a Chair not to take a point of order. John Dobson, one of the few Conservatives to openly oppose the incinerator pointed out that Paul Morse had the right to reply to the closure motion according to the constitution, but the chief executive said this was not the case and that it was at the Chair’s discretion whether there should be a debate on the closure motion, or not. At this point it is probably worth mentioning that it was Dobson who is often credited with writing the current Norfolk County Council constitution. Cllr. Hutson decided that a democratic debate was not needed and moved to a vote.
All the Lib Dems in the chamber then walked out in protest at the conduct of the whole meeting, joined by Andrew Boswell, the Green Party Environment and Waste Spokesmen. The public started slow handclapping. By this point the meeting was in chaos; the opposition kept calling for points of order, the Tories were heckling back and the debate was being controlled by whoever had the loudest voice, not the Chair. The vote still went ahead, and without the Lib Dems, the Conservatives won an easy victory. The public proceeded to walk out. Many Labour and Green councillors only stayed because they had to debate the next items.
In short, it was a disgraceful meeting. Members weren’t even allowed to debate a motion on whether they should debate another motion on whether to hold an inquiry! It would certainly appear that the provisions of the constitution were breached several times, and the general behaviour of Conservative councillors was despicable. Yet again we see Norfolk County Council refusing to engage in democratic debate simply because it may be embarrassing for his party. We can only hope that somebody takes notice of the flagrant abuses of power and authority we are now seeing, and holds them to account for their actions.
The King’s Lynn incinerator is a sufficiently controversial subject that I would imagine that most people in West Norfolk have formed some opinion about whether it should be built or not. 65,516 have made their views very clear indeed. Don’t worry if you haven’t though because, whether you realise it or not, you’ve already taken sides. Both of them in fact.
Confused? Let me explain. One of the ways that the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk has come up with to fight the plan is the allocation of around £150,000 for legal fees. It is expected that this would be used at some point in the future for a judicial review against the way Norfolk County Council has dealt with the whole saga. So far so simple. However, any legal action would be taken against the county council, who would have to set aside money for their own legal costs. NCC is already fighting a separate application for a judicial review from the campaigner Michael de Whalley. The costs of the two will probably spiral into the hundreds of thousands, and may even reach into the millions. And of course, both of these will be funded by the taxpayers of Norfolk.
So every West Norfolk taxpayer is paying for, and therefore supporting, both sides. You see what I mean about a paradox. But there is a serious point here. What could be more absurd than our taxes being squandered in contrary legal challenges that no one really wants, and shouldn’t even be needed, just because Norfolk County Council refuses to listen to the democratically expressed views of West Norfolk? Particularly at a time of deep cuts to vital services, it has to be asked why the county council won’t just do the decent thing and scrap the whole sorry idea.
Recently there have been a number of calls for the King’s Lynn incinerator planning application to be called in. The arguments for this are quite simple; how can Norfolk County Council impartially judge whether the incinerator should go ahead, when senior officers and cabinet members have been promoting its virtues for over a year? Naturally, the county council has been desperate to prevent this happening, saying that as Waste Planning Authority they are the most appropriate body to take the decision.
So imagine my surprise when I found this quote in a planning submission from Norfolk County Council’s own employee, Ed Stocker;
“I also question whether we can base the Appropriate Assessment on the applicant’s conclusions of their own data. NCC does not employ anyone who is qualified to interpret the air quality data and predicted levels of impact on marine life, (primarily shellfish).
We would need to employ an expert to advise on that part of the Appropriate Assessment”
In other words Norfolk County Council lacks the expertise to determine whether the plan would have a significantly detrimental effect on ecology, and would have to employ external consultants. Inevitably that will cost even more (adding to the £5.2 million already spent by NCC on this project ), at a time when services for young people and vulnerable OAPs are being cut. Surely it would make more sense for the county council to support the call-in so that an entirely impartial inspector, with all the expertise needed available, could make the decision, eradicating all concerns about cost and objectivity. The question is, why won’t they?
The whole incinerator saga is, I think you’ll agree, a pretty big story for Norfolk. It’s not every day that 65,516 people in one borough unite to oppose a development proposal, and still get ignored by the county council. Unfortunately, we are still not sure whether the government is going to stand by the people of Norfolk or not.
So when David Cameron visited the EDP office yesterday you would have thought someone might have asked a question about the incinerator. But they didn’t. They discussed police commissioners and A11 dualling, phone hacking and the hunting ban, but not the one story that even the EDP describes as “Norfolk’s Burning Issue”. A chance to really understand if the Prime Minister believes in localism when it’s put to test was lost.
Why? Perhaps it was because of the EDP’s seeming aversion to criticism of Norfolk County Council. Sadly though, it seems that the root cause of this failure goes even deeper. When seen in conjunction with the leader published by the same paper two weeks ago, in which they argued that our councillors alone should take the decision over the incinerator, as we will never know “definitively what the people of Norfolk think about the incinerator”, a more worrying trend begins to appear. It seems to me at least that the EDP has taken a decision to support the incinerator, and to disregard both its readership and the people of Norfolk. Which begs the obvious question: if a local paper doesn’t represent its audience, then what purpose does it serve? For the time being, though, it would appear that for good coverage of this most important of issues the EDP just isn’t up to scratch.