King's Lynn incinerator is key Norfolk election issue

Site of proposed incinerator at Saddlebow, King's Lynn The proposed incinerator at King's Lynn has divided Norfolk's Tories and is expected to be a key election issue

With 59 of the 84 seats on Norfolk County Council currently held by the Conservatives, and with the Tories comfortably in control of the authority since 1997, on the face of it there shouldn't be much to get excited about in these elections.

But the Conservatives are privately very worried about their chances as 2 May approaches because of a row over a waste incinerator.

The proposal to build the plant in King's Lynn has made the Conservative Party very unpopular in the north-west of the county where it can normally take support for granted.

It has also divided the Tories in Norfolk, putting Conservative-run West Norfolk Council at loggerheads with the county council.

More than 92% of voters taking part in a local referendum opposed the plans, but the county council dismissed the result.

Ethics training
Bill Borrett Bill Borrett said savings generated by the incinerator would be crucial

Conservative MPs in the county called for a compromise but none was forthcoming. The council, which was led by Derrick Murphy, ploughed on regardless.

The matter is now the subject of a public inquiry.

Mr Murphy stood down permanently in February after being censured by the council's standards committee in connection with his actions over the incinerator.

The committee heard various allegations relating to an email sent to BBC Radio Norfolk, allegedly disparaging West Norfolk Council leader Nick Daubney.

Start Quote

They should be taking stock of what local people say and local issues”

End Quote Richard Bearman Green Party

He asked an assistant to lie for him and denied sending the email.

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

Afterwards he announced he would not be standing for election.

New Conservative leader Bill Borrett is trying to sound more conciliatory and has talked about re-building relationships but opponents point out that he used to be cabinet member for waste and was very much involved in the waste incinerator proposals.

'Hard to call'

He said: "It's always difficult as a politician when you are involved in a project that doesn't have universal appeal but we have to remember that it will deliver savings of £150,000 a week, which given the sort of financial climate we find ourselves in, is absolutely crucial to how we protect services in Norfolk."

Michael Baker Michael Baker of UKIP said his party opposed the incinerator on democratic grounds

The row over the incinerator, together with the Tories' poor showing in opinion polls and an expected collapse in Liberal Democrat support, could mean that the Conservatives lose control of the council.

Lib Dem group leader Mike Brindle said: "We're quite confident. It's very hard to call this election because of all the independents standing and UKIP but we think, on the whole, we have got good candidates, we're contesting a lot of seats and we hope we will do well."

After the Lib Dems, the Greens are the second main opposition party on the council with six seats.

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We're contesting a lot of seats and we hope we will do well”

End Quote Mike Brindle Liberal Democrats

Their leader Richard Bearman said he was hopeful of making gains.

"There are people who voted in the referendum against the incinerator and they (the council) are still pressing ahead with those issues. They should be taking stock of what local people say and local issues, whether it's in west Norfolk or in Yarmouth," he said.

'Ferrets in sack'

UKIP, which currently has one seat on the council, also opposes the incinerator.

Michael Baker from the party said: "We're against it, mainly from a democratic point of view but also because of the practicalities of it - why are we having it and where is it being sited.

George Nobbs Labour's George Nobbs said the Conservative administration was divided

"Always there are going to be people who don't want it next to them but when you get 92% against it, surely any democratic process has to take note of that."

Labour only has three seats at the moment but hopes to galvanize its supporters in urban areas like Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Thetford and King's Lynn to make a number of gains.

How well they do will determine whether Norfolk goes into no overall control or stays Conservative.

Group leader George Nobbs said: "We can't go on as we have with this administration in Norfolk. Their record on education is appalling. They are an administration that is divided and they are fighting like ferrets in a sack."

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