Tag Archives: West Norfolk

Localism, hypocrisy and Norfolk County Council

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.


The Incinerator Paradox

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.

Norfolk County Council admits it doesn’t have enough expertise for incinerator planning application

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?

What the Boundary Review means for West Norfolk

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.