Claims that the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) deliberately delayed a planning decision on the King’s Lynn energy-from-waste plant have been denied in Whitehall.
The allegations from senior members of Norfolk County Council follow publication of a document dated September 2013 in which the planning inspector for DCLG recommended approval.
Withdrawal of the project last year cost the council £33.7m in compensation payments. After the department failed to take a decision by a January 2014 deadline, the council’s cabinet agreed to terminate the contract. In January 2015, joint developers Cory and Wheelabrator formally withdrew the application.
But the newly published report reveals the inspector had recommended granting permission to the scheme, under some conditions.
The release prompted councillors to accuse communities secretary Eric Pickles and his department of deliberately delaying a decision on the projects.
Toby Coke, chairman of Norfolk’s environment, development and transport committee, said: “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 £33.7m that his delay has cost Norfolk taxpayers.”
Local government minister Kris Hopkins dismissed the claims as “inaccurate and unfair”. He maintained the application was called in after the project attracted significant opposition.
“Representations [were made] from 23 MPs and peers, 48 parish councils and 5,800 locally signed letters,” he said. “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.”
A DCLG spokesman said that, had the application not been withdrawn, ministers would have proceeded to make a decision considering a series of elements.
“These would have included not only the inspector’s report, but also the considerable inquiry evidence and that, after the inquiry closed, there had been changes to material facts including planning policy and guidance.
“All of the documents would have been considered in the round, and it is not possible to pre-judge the final outcome that could have been taken after proper consideration of this complex and changing case.”