Norfolk County Council ceases EfW contract

Norfolk County Council's Cabinet has voted to abandon its King's Lynn energy-from-waste (EfW) contract with Cory Wheelabrator.

Artist impression of planned EfW plant

Artist impression of planned EfW plant

The decision came following a full council meeting earlier today (7 April), described as "extraordinary" by councillors. The meeting saw 48 councillors vote in favour of terminating the King's Lynn incinerator contract. There were 30 votes against, and one abstention. 

Cory Wheelabrator is a partnership of UK waste management firm Cory Environmental and American incineration specialist Wheelabrator.

Last week officers recommended that the council's waste contract with the Cory Wheelabrator consortium should be abandoned on the grounds that it has failed to secure planning permission.

In August 2012 the planning application for the EfW plant was called in for determination by the Government, Norfolk County Council said. Following a planning inquiry last year (2013), the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, said a decision would be made on or before 14 January 2014. No decision has been announced, and a report published on 7 April recommended termination of the contract to minimise the potential financial impact of continuing delay, rising costs and increasing risks.

In a statement, Norfolk County Council said: "When the contract was signed, savings of over £250m were guaranteed over its 23 years, compared to landfill. The report to Council and Cabinet said that the Secretary of State's failure to make a decision was costing around £140,000 a day, and by June the projected savings would have disappeared.

"The escalating cost of continuing delay follows the Government's decision last November to withdraw Waste Infrastructure Grant worth £169m over the lifetime of the contract."

It has been suggested by Norfolk County Council that the cost of terminating the contract is estimated to be £30.26m, comprising capped compensation to Cory Wheelabrator of £20.3m, contractor public inquiry costs of £1.6m and exchange rate and interest rate related costs of £8.36m.

The Cabinet agreed that these costs should be met through a £19m contingency reserve built up for the purpose, £3m from the council's 2013/14 under spend, and £8m from general reserves, on the basis that the council takes immediate steps to replenish those reserves. Cabinet will consider the options at its meeting on 12 May.

The consortium was planning to develop a power and recycling centre, called the Willows Power & Recycling Centre, at The Willows Business Park in Saddlebow near King's Lynn. It aimed to divert more than 250,000 tonnes of waste from landfill per year as well as recovering enough energy to power around 36,000 homes.

A spokesman from the consortium said: "We are extremely disappointed by the decisions today, particularly as many years of hard work have gone into this project by the consortium and Norfolk County Council. We believed that the Public Inquiry would have provided a fair hearing for all parties and that a decision would be based on pure planning grounds.

"We, and the industry, have also made it clear to government that planning delays to major infrastructure projects are costly and can jeopardise future investment. The Willows project looks set to become yet another example of this delay and uncertainty. The delay to that planning decision has resulted in considerable costs to all parties at a time when public funds are already stretched.

"The fact still remains that there is no firm solution for the long-term management of Norfolk's waste, despite considerable time and expense being devoted to a solution that was viable, deliverable and would have created hundreds of jobs."

Liz Gyekye
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