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Norfolk asks PM for help with £30m cost of failed EfW scheme

Norfolk County Council is asking the government to help pay its £30m bill for cancelling a controversial energy from waste project, as it looks to a neighbouring authority to deal with some of its waste.

Norfolk’s Labour leader George Nobbs has written to the Prime Minister asking for help with the large costs of withdrawing last month from its contract with Cory Wheelabrator to build the Willows Power and Recycling centre. Two-thirds of the £30m is a compensation payment to Cory.

The council largely blames the ultimate demise of the scheme, which has been a long running saga, on the failure of communities secretary Eric Pickles to rule on planning permission.

In a letter to David Cameron, Nobbs said: “I am writing to you in order to ask for your help with a serious financial problem that my council has had to deal with as a result of the actions of a previous council administration here and the inaction of your secretary of state for communities.”

Pickles was expected to have ruled on planning permission for the facility on or before 14 January, but has so far remained silent.

Nobbs said that the “elongation of a government decision” had caused the contract to become untenable.

He also predicted that delivering an alternative scheme would be more difficult as a result, as it would be “blighted by market knowledge” of the failure of previous schemes. Nobbs said he would welcome help with the immediate £30m bill, the costs of a new scheme, as well as a reduction in landfill charges.

The council is currently planning to use the £19m earmarked as a residual waste treatment contract reserve to help pay the bill, with savings and underspends to make up most of the £11.3m shortfall.

However, Nobbs warned that meeting the bill would inevitably result in “some cuts that will hurt”, with options being looked at including reducing the highways maintenance budget.

In a meeting on 12 May, the council cabinet will consider options on tackling the bill and will be asked to approve plans to set up an arrangement with Suffolk County Council to dispose of some of its waste, while a longer term solution is found.

A report from the Interim Director of Environment, Transport and Development says Norfolk has flexible arrangements in place to deal with residual waste up until the end of March 2016, but that there is potential to delegate some waste functions to Suffolk.

This would be if the arrangement delivered savings of more than £10,000 per year starting in the financial year 2014/15, be no more than 50,000 tonnes annually and for no longer than 36 months, according to the report.

Suffolk County Council is expecting its waste treatment service to start in June when its facility enters the commissioning phase.

The report recommends: “Where there is the opportunity to improve value for money by entering in to an arrangement by which certain limited waste disposal functions would be provided by Suffolk County Council in its facility, it is advisable that the county council should seek to take advantage of this.”

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