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: King’s Lynn
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.
It’s not really surprising that Cory Wheelabrator are a little bit desperate. 93% said no to the King’s Lynn incinerator in a West Norfolk referendum. 97% said no in the Norfolk-wide planning consultation, including the majority of parish councils that responded. 22 local doctors, the Environment Agency, Natural England,the Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Agency, the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and the Wash Estuary Strategy Group have all raised serous concerns or objected to the plan. However, their latest ploy really is something.
Yesterday, there were a few reports that a survey team was going door-to-door asking questions about the incinerator. One person they asked was allowed to see, and write down, what was on the survey paper, which has since been forwarded to me. Here it is;
1) The Willows Energy-from-Waste plant is a proposed development on the Saddlebow Industrial Estate, to the South of King’s Lynn , that will deal the bulk of non-recycled household waste in Norfolk . Have you heard of the Willows?
(Yes, No, Don’t Know)
2) If Yes, …. how did you hear about it?
3) In general terms, do you think it is right for waste left after reuse and recycling in Norfolk to be safely burnt, to produce energy, rather than being landfilled?
( Yes, No, Don’t Know)
4) Do you have any particular areas of concern about the Willows proposals, or any topics on which you would like more information?
5) Which of the following statements best describes your opinion about the Willows proposals?
(I support; I support this proposal but have some reservations; I have some concerns about the proposal; I oppose the proposal; I have no strong feelings about this proposal).
6) Do you have further questions or comments to add?
7) If supportive in answer to Question 5 – Would you be interested in submitting your views to the Council or in receiving more information updates from us? (If YES, collect contact details including email and telephone number).
There are couple of points to be made here. Firstly, nowhere does it mention the word “incinerator”, which is what this proposal is known as by most people. I wonder how many won’t have a clue what the survey means because of this choice of words, and therefore not answer as they would want to? In addition, the questions are clearly enticing people to say they support incineration, particularly Question 3 which gives only the option of landfill or incineration, and makes it sound as if waste is already recycled as much as possible.
Most importantly, though, is Question 7, which asks only people who support the incinerator whether they might be interested in writing to Norfolk County Council or getting updates from Cory Wheelabrator. In other words, they are trying to get as many people as they can to tell NCC that they support the incinerator. Not only is this obviously an act of desperation because practically nobody supports the plan, but personally I also think it’s disgusting that part-way through the planning process the applicant is essentially paying for people to go out and find who supports the idea, so they can get them to write in. We can only hope that people see this for what it is; a clever ploy by Cory Wheelabrator.
UPDATE: The survey is being carried out by a company calledhttps://jonaholiver.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=90&action=edit Bellenden, which specialises in political, planning and corporate communications, who have been hired by Cory Wheelabrator. Perhaps surprisingly, as far as I can see (and I have not yet verified this), Bellenden is not a member of the British Polling Council. Of even greater interest, however, is that Norfolk County Council has hired Bellenden as a consultant on campaigns previously, most notably regarding the dualling of the A11. In fact, Daniel Cox, the ex-leader of NCC gave a glowing appraisal of the company saying
“By working together, we have achieved a stunning victory to bring forward completion of the dualling of the A11 by 18 months. Bellenden’s advice and engagement with decision makers in Westminster has been an important part in our success.”
However, they don’t seem to have been involved in this latest act.
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 Boundary Commission has just published its proposals for the revision of parliamentary constituencies, and for the rest of this week I’ll be trying to get to the bottom of what this will mean for Norfolk. For those who’ve forgotten, this report was commissioned in the wake of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, which legislated to reduce the number of seats from 650 to 600 and ensure that all constituencies should have around the same number of voters. While the overall number of seats in Norfolk has stayed the same, there has been a considerable re-jigging of boundaries, so there may be plenty of consequences for both the public and politicians.However, I would stress it is a draft document up for consultation, so far from the finished product.
Today, I will be looking at the changes proposed for the two West Norfolk seats. North West Norfolk, the seat of Henry Bellingham, won’t be changing much at all. It’ll have a new name, King’s Lynn, and will gain three wards, Wiggenhall, St Lawrence and Watlington from what is currently South West Norfolk. This should make hardly any difference to the electoral make up of this constituency though. Although there seems to be a slight bias away from both Labour and the Conservatives in the new wards, at the most it will cost Bellingham 300 votes in a very safe seat.
Of far greater interest is what is happening to Elizabeth Truss’ seat, South West Norfolk, which has been torn apart and formed into two new, separate seats. The one we will look at here is Wisbech and Downham Market. This constituency would take up the wards from the borough of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk that were previously part of South West Norfolk (except from the three mentioned above), but lose all thirteen Breckland wards. These would be replaced by thirteen from Fenland, meaning that the seat would straddle the border between Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. Not only would this bring an unusual cross-county dynamic, but would also make the constituency considerably safer, perhaps giving the Conservatives a 2 or 3% swing, especially when it is considered that it would significantly squash the Labour vote.
The really interesting thing is which Tory would be selected for the seat. The favourite would surely be Elizabeth Truss, as it’s the only real Norfolk seat she could be selected for (as Thetford and Swafham will be taken by George Freeman) but she may face stiff competition from Stephen Barclay, the Conservative MP for Cambridgeshire North East whose seat is also majorly affected. However, he could also stand for Peterborough South. Whichever way, it is likely to lead to a few internal struggles in the Conservative party and a very exciting new dimension to West Norfolk politics, although it looks like the Tories will still be firmly entrenched in safe seats. So, while perhaps there will be little change in the long term profile of these two constituencies, it could do a lot to shake up West Norfolk politics in the short term.
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.