Saturday, 15 October 2011

Cornwall Council comments on High Court ruling are shameful

My column in next week's Cornish Guardian will, unsurprisingly, focus on the result of the High Court challenge to the incinerator planning consent. For a sneak preview, see below:

The phone call to campaigners in St Dennis came at just after midday on Thursday. It was good news for the village – the High Court had just quashed the planning consent for a massive incinerator.

Mr Justice Collins had ordered Eric Pickles to reconsider the planning decision because the Secretary of State and his planning inspector had failed to properly consider environmental issues and the impact of emissions on nearby Special Areas of Conservation.

Cornwall Council were quick to describe the ruling as “extremely disappointing.” Their press release went into overdrive claiming that this could “mean a delay of up to six months” for the project and “cost the Council at least £6 million.”

One journalist even condemned Cornwall Council for being in “full emotional manipulation mode” as it made the claim that the “delay” was the “equivalent of providing 400,000 hours of care for vulnerable people living at home.”

I feel extremely angry that the Council keeps making such ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims, which can and are being challenged.

It is time that the Council acknowledged a few home truths. It needs to recognise that the former County Council mishandled the issue of the incinerator and that Cornwall Council is continuing to make a hash of it.

In 2006 the Liberal Democrat administration on Cornwall County Council voted to sign a waste contract with SITA which specified the construction of an incinerator. The site at St Dennis was even named in the contract, but the members who voted in favour did not bother to visit the area to consider whether it would be appropriate for such a development.

In 2009 the Planning Committee (including many who voted for the contract) voted by twenty votes to one to refuse the incinerator proposal.

Soon after, the leader of the new Conservative-led unitary authority Alec Robertson (who himself opposed the incinerator) pledged that the Council would robustly defend SITA’s appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. He sanctioned the expenditure of over £1 million to do just that.

I was privileged to help present local views to that Inquiry and I know that the Council’s planning officers and the legal team defended the appeal extremely well. But they had to cope with senior officers and the leadership of the two-faced Council doing all they could to undermine them.

The extent of this interference became publicly apparent when Alec Robertson wrote to the Secretary of State asking him to rule against his own Council and to allow the incinerator to be built.

I therefore find the Council’s ongoing criticism of the good folk of St Dennis for their bravery in bringing a High Court challenge to be shameful. How dare they scaremonger about costs. And how dare they try to blame others for their failure to develop a sustainable way to manage waste?

It is also important for people to realise that the issues raised in the legal challenge brought by objectors were exactly the same as those raised by Cornwall Council itself at the earlier Planning Inquiry!

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