Derrick Murphy: King's Lynn incinerator-backing 'political suicide'

Derrick Murphy Derrick Murphy said he had never been convinced by the incinerator scheme

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The former leader of Norfolk County Council said backing its plans for a waste incinerator at King's Lynn were "political suicide" for him.

Conservative Derrick Murphy, who stood down in January after publicly supporting the project, admitted he had always had doubts about it.

Mr Murphy, no longer a councillor, said: "I'm not an autocrat. I have to go along with what my group want."

The council is due to debate the incinerator bid at a meeting on Monday.

The proposed scheme to build the £500m plant has also divided the county's Conservatives, with West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham and Tory-run West Norfolk Council firmly against it.

In a poll organised by West Norfolk Council, more than 92% of the 70,763 voters who took part opposed the scheme.

Mr Murphy said the incinerator scheme had been "political suicide" for him and other Conservative councillors in west Norfolk.

"It directly led to my downfall as leader," said Mr Murphy, who stepped down at the start of the year, ahead of a standards committee hearing into allegations against him.

Energy from waste incinerator The incinerator scheme is currently being examined by a planning inquiry

He said he and his wife Janet, who was also a Conservative county councillor, considered moving from the area because of threats and intimidation over the incinerator.

"We felt we had had to get out. We rented a flat in south Norfolk and spent a lot of time there," he said.

'I had doubts'

Mr Murphy told BBC Radio Norfolk he could now speak freely since he was no longer a councillor.

He said he had "inherited" the incinerator scheme and had never been convinced by it.

"I had my doubts," he said.

"As a politician, it's obviously a very controversial policy in the area where I live.

"It would have been much better if the incinerator wasn't there. I and other Conservative county councillors in west Norfolk went through an enormous amount of grief.

Derrick Murphy fact file

Derrick Murphy

Derrick Murphy was leader of Norfolk County Council from October 2010 until he stood down in January ahead of a standards committee hearing.

The hearing in February related to an email sent to the BBC by a political assistant at County Hall at Mr Murphy's request about the incinerator, allegedly disparaging West Norfolk Council leader Nick Daubney.

Mr Murphy was cleared of various accusations but found to have brought the office of the leader into disrepute and ordered to undergo ethics training.

He did not contest his Freebridge Lynn seat in last week's local elections and is no longer a councillor.

"I'm not an autocrat. I have to go along with what my group want, and my group have made it clear to me over and over again that that was the best way to deal with Norfolk's waste."

'Failure in communication'

He said the council had lost the battle to convince the public of the need for an incinerator.

"We pay people to communicate our message and clearly there was a failure in communication," he said.

A public inquiry into the incinerator scheme began in February and is continuing.

But the Conservatives' loss of control of the council in last week's elections means they will face increased opposition to the plans.

The Liberal Democrat, Green, Labour and UKIP groups oppose the scheme, as do some Tories.

John Dobson, Conservative councillor for Dersingham, has proposed a motion calling for an "extraordinary, full council" meeting to debate "whether to proceed with procurement in its present form, or at all" which will be discussed at Monday's full council meeting.

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said the government recognised projects such as the incinerator were often the subject of strong views.

"We have tried to put the case for the project openly and honestly in newsletters, through briefings, at very many presentations and meetings and have pointed out that similar plants continue to operate successfully and safely here at home and in Europe," he said.

"The council's position has not changed."

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