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Pickles urged to rule on Norfolk EfW

Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs has said he is “alarmed and disappointed” that communities secretary Eric Pickles has apparently delayed his decision on a planning application for a controversial energy-from-waste (EfW) scheme.

The Cory Wheelabrator consortium was awarded a 25-year contract to build and run the Willows Power and Recycling Centre at Saddlebow. But in October Defra announced it was pulling its funding of the project, initially granted through waste infrastructure credits.

Norfolk County Council then voted to press ahead with the project using a redrafted plan.

Pickles was due to decide on whether to grant planning permission for the project on or before 14 January, but according to local paper reports he will not meet the deadline.

In a letter to Pickles dated 10 January, Nobbs warned the authority would need to factor in possible compensation payments of between £26m and £31m if planning permission was refused.

He said the “clock was ticking fast” as the council’s Cabinet Committee will need to agree recommendations for the budget at a meeting on 27 January.

The letter read: “The outcome of your decision on the Willows (whichever way it goes) has consequences for our budget and financial strategy either on the savings front, or on landing us with significant additional costs.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said there had been no response as yet to the letter.

She added: “A decision will be made by ministers in due course. At present, ministers are carefully considering all the evidence and detailed representations from a wide range of parties, following the receipt of the planning inspector’s report.”

David Harrison, Norfolk County Council’s cabinet member for environment, transport, development and waste, said: “Nobody can argue that the planning process has been anything less than thorough - the planning application was ‘called in’ for a decision by the secretary of state 17 months ago and this was followed by a long public inquiry last spring to which all parties contributed.

“The inspector’s report has been with the secretary of state now since the autumn. On top of that, a number of independent reviews into this issue have answered people’s concerns about the contract process.”

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