Leading waste management figures have warned communities secretary Eric Pickles that investor confidence could be damaged in the wake of his indecision over the Norfolk energy-from-waste project.
Pickles was supposed to have ruled whether to grant planning permission for the Willows energy-from-waste (EfW) facility on or before 14 January, but has so far remained silent.
As a result Norfolk County Council looks set to withdraw from its contract with the Cory Wheelabrator consortium to build the facility over fears of escalating compensation costs. The council will vote on a recommendation to terminate the contract on 7 April.
A spokesperson for the Willows Power and Recycling Centre said the consortium was “extremely disappointed” by the council’s announcement.
He added: “We, and the industry, have also made it clear to government that planning delays to major infrastructure projects are costly and can jeopardise them and this project looks set to become yet another example.
“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.”
Steve Lee, chief executive of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, said: “This is certainly not the way to deliver essential infrastructure. We have been promised a more efficient planning process and this highlights the need for it.
“Delivering waste infrastructure is a complex and costly process; setbacks such as these undermine years of work and come at a significant cost to both local authorities and the taxpayer.
“The resulting uncertainty and perception of higher risk also damages investor confidence in an industry that already faces challenges in attracting the necessary funding.”
The Renewable Energy Assocation (REA) said the Willows centre was “exactly the kind of renewable energy project the Government should be seizing with both hands”.
Head of policy Paul Thompson said: “With old coal and nuclear plant coming offline this decade, the UK needs to build low carbon infrastructure to bridge the gap. This project could divert 250,000 tonnes of waste from landfill per year and use it to provide clean, steady, reliable power to 36,000 homes.
“It is vital that, when calling in renewable energy planning appeals, the communities secretary makes decisions in a timely manner based on facts rather than politics. We urge Eric Pickles to reach a decision on the Willows project as soon as possible.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “This is a complex planning application which is being carefully considered with due process, following an immense number of representations, including numerous post-inquiry representations.
“A decision will be made in due course.”