Saturday, 21 May 2011

St Dennis has been failed by the planning system and the political process

Shown below is the timetable that lead towards yesterday's awful decision on the incinerator,and some key facts:

1. In 2002, Cornwall County Council agreed a Waste Local Plan, which included a proposal for a 200,000 tonne incinerator within a Central Cornwall Area of Search – most of which was in the China Clay Area.

2. In 2006, Liberal Democrat controlled Cornwall County Council agreed the “Integrated Waste Management Contract” with SITA. It specified the construction of an incinerator near St Dennis. 33 Liberal Democrats and two independents voted for the Contract. It was opposed by 28 councillors (Conservatives, Independents, Labour and, I think, one Lib Dem).

3. Over the next two-three years, Liberal Democrats such as David Whalley and Adam Paynter lead from the front in promoting the incinerator proposal.

4. The proposal for the incinerator was turned down at a Planning Committee meeting in March 2009. The vote was 20 for refusal (Conservatives, Independents, Labour and Lib Dems), one against (Lib Dem) and one abstention (Lib Dem).

5. Throughout this period, both before and after the refusal of the planning application, leading politicians from the main parties came to St Dennis to offer support to campaigners (and get their pictures in the paper). These included Mark Prisk, who titled himself as the Conservative’s Shadow Cornwall Minister (see above).

6. SITA registered an appeal in September 2009. Conservative Council leader Cllr Alec Robertson attended a public meeting at St Dennis later in the same month and local people were reassured that the Council would robustly defend the appeal.

7. By early 2010, lack of progress with the Contract meant the Cabinet had the right to terminate the Contract. At the Council’s Waste Panel, I moved that we recommend to the Cabinet that they investigate the termination of the Contract. This was opposed by the majority of Conservative, Independent and Liberal Democrat councillors on the Panel. The Conservative / Independent Cabinet declined to terminate the Contract or even to investigate termination as an option. At the same time, the present administration of the Council has refused to work up a Plan B to a single centralised incinerator.

8. The planners at Cornwall Council did robustly defend the appeal, at a Public Inquiry over a period of 36 days spread between 16th March and 7th October 2010, assisted by a number of Rule 6 parties including STIG/St Dennis Parish Council, Power of Cornwall, Transition Cornwall Network and the Cornwall Sustainable Waste Network.

9. However, staff from Cornwall Council’s Waste team did prepare and present information to the Inquiry specifically to the benefit of SITA’s case. This included claims that the cost of not proceeding with the Incinerator would be in the region of £200 million.

10. This week, it was discovered that Alec Robertson, the Leader of Cornwall Council, had written to Eric Pickles in April calling on him to dismiss the arguments made by the Council at the Inquiry and uphold the planning appeal in favour of SITA. In the resultant publicity, he made claims that the failure of the appeal would now cost £332 million. Alec Robertson’s position also reflects that of the Chief Executive and his corporate directors, who have always hoped that the incinerator would get the go-ahead.

11. On 16th March, the Planning Inspector lodged his report with the Secretary of State. It recommended that the Appeal be allowed. Eric Pickles followed his advice.

12. In the ruling, the Inspector and Mr Pickles gave full weight to the 2002 Waste Local Plan that proposed an incinerator in Mid Cornwall and the Contract that specified the construction of an incinerator near St Dennis, as well as the perceived financial costs of a different approach to waste management. The failure of Cornwall Council to have worked up alternative proposals and/or found alternative sites was identified as a justification to allow the appeal. I disagree strongly with the findings and the fact that the arguments of local people have been so casually dismissed.

13. My conclusion is simple. St Dennis has been failed by the planning system, the political process and the two main political parties.

Tomorrow, I will post a more detailed review of the actual appeal decision.

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