Monday, 23 May 2011

Getting angrier by the minute!

This afternoon, I opened my emails at County Hall to find a "media briefing" sent out all councillors on behalf of Cornwall Council leader Alec Robertson.

Listed under “positive news” is the Council’s failure to defend its decision not to build a massive 240,000 tonne incinerator at St Dennis.

Positive news for who? It is certainly not positive news for me or the people of the China Clay Area!

Graham Smith of the BBC has beaten me to the blog entry on this. He writes: “Prepared by the council's press office, the document is helpfully divided into lists of "positive news" and "negative news," and as long as the former outnumber the latter then Cornwall's Tribunes can rest easy, secure in the knowledge that the bosses know what they're doing. But - gadzooks! - don't these lists look rather subjective? For example, the decision of the Secretary of State to approve the St Dennis waste incinerator is only good news if you don't actually live in St Dennis. And, er, the official policy of the council (as set out at a £1million+ public inquiry) is still to oppose the St Dennis incinerator.”

Getting angrier by the minute …

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Appeal decision is more like a SITA press release, than a balanced judgement from a Planning Inquiry

Yesterday, I studied the key aspects of the appeal decision and the conclusions of the Inspector and then the Secretary of State. Here are what I consider the key elements of the decision.

First and foremost, the Inspector fully accepted the validity of the Waste Local Plan agreed by Cornwall County Council in 2002, which included a proposal for a 200,000 tonne incinerator within the China Clay Area, and the “Integrated Waste Management Contract” agreed between the County Council and SITA in 2006. He wrote: “The Contract required the appellant to deliver an EfW plant with a 240,000 tonne capacity” on the appeal site. He gave great weight to this.

The local community presented an extremely detailed case to the Inquiry, which demonstrated that this approach was wrong and the selection of the St Dennis site was flawed, but these views were ignored.

The Inspector gave significant weight to the limited amount of landfill space this is available in Cornwall. He was also critical that Cornwall Council did not present an alternative approach or approaches to waste management, or identify what he termed credible alternative sites.

He ignored the representations from Rule 6 Parties about more sustainable waste management methods, the Waste Hierarchy and a range of related issues.

The local community also argued that the 240,000 tonne incinerator was over-sized and much larger that the likely total extent of domestic waste arisings in future years. The Inspector did not accept our arguments and said he would be content to see the plant burning up larger amounts of commercial and industrial waste.

He concluded that “there is a compelling need for the CERC facility to be in place in good time to address [the] pressing problem” of what to do with Cornwall’s waste.

The Inspector also decided that the impact of the incinerator on nature conservation interests, the historic environment, public footpaths or landscape character would not be unacceptably harmful. He also failed to take note of health concerns raised by local people.

But unbelievably, he also wrote that the “CERC buildings would be of a distinctive high quality and innovative design. The curved form of the roofs of the building would reflect the rolling forms of the countryside around St Dennis.” As one person in St Dennis said on Friday: “This reads more like a SITA press release, than a balanced judgement from a Planning Inquiry.”

The Inspector did conclude that the “visual impact of the stack and, to a lesser extent, the buildings would have an intrusive and harmful impact on some shorter distance vantage points” and that noise levels “would adversely affect the amenity of those people living in the properties” at La Mount Corner, which he elsewhere referred to as a “localised” impact.

However, the view of the inspector was that the benefits of the scheme were “substantial and compelling” and outweighed the “harm by way of visual impact and the effect of traffic noise.”

Controversially, he also gave “very substantial weight … to the financial repercussions of the CERC proposal not proceeding,” arguing that the perceived cost presented to the Inquiry would “hit taxpayers and the Council hard at a time of straightened financial circumstances …”

I remain gutted at the findings of the Inspector, many of which I consider unacceptable. I am also angry that so many of the arguments presented by local people have been so casually dismissed.

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.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Incinerator gets the go-ahead - update

I have just found out that Eric Pickles has given the go-ahead for an incinerator to be built near St Dennis. He has gone with the recommendation of the Inspector who recommended that it be approved.

Like many people, I am now reading through the 427 page decision document and finding so many assertions with which I simply do not agree. In truth, I am struggling to come to terms with what has been sanctioned.

Local people raised reason after reason why the incinerator should not be allowed, but the Inspector has simply ignored these concerns. At the same time, he has given substantial weight to the out-dated Waste Local Plan and dubious waste projections, as well as the dreadful, onerous contract signed by the previous County Council and the financial implications of not progressing with incineration

This represents a crushing defeat. The best interests of St Dennis and Mid Cornwall have been sacrificed by politicians and the planning system.

“A Dose of Reality on Cornwall’s Waste” - part 2

Following the publication of Alec Robertson’s letter to Eric Pickles concerning the incinerator appeal, waste management has become the hot topic of conversation once again. This has included a blog from Labour Councillor Jude Robinson entitled “A Dose of Reality on Cornwall’s Waste.”

Jude talks about “posturing” and “nimbyism” which I consider inappropriate and totally unjustified given the consistent approach of local members from the China Clay Area such as myself, Fred Greenslade, John Wood and Des Curnow stretching back over a decade.

In particular, Jude states that: “Although opponents of the CERC insist that Cornwall can recycle more, they have just turned down the chance to improve Cornwall’s recycling in the new waste collection contracts.”

I would love some clarity on who Jude is talking about when she states that “opponents of the CERC … turned down the chance to improve Cornwall’s recycling.”

For the record, the decision to agree a waste collection contract with fortnightly recycling and weekly collection of black bag waste (rather than fortnightly collections of black bag waste and weekly recycling collections) was taken by the Cabinet, not any of the active opponents of the incinerator scheme.

At the heart of Jude’s blog is her uncritical acceptance of a recent statement from the Cabinet that the failure of the appeal and the cancellation of the Contact would cost local council tax-payers £322 million.

I simply do not accept these figures or the suggested timescales that it would take to deliver an alternative to the incinerator, and I believe I have been consistent in making challenges over many months when presented with the myriad of exaggerated costs as we argue for alternatives to incineration.

Also, one cost not talked about by either the Cabinet or Jude Robinson is the rising cost of the incinerator itself.

In 2000, councillors were told that a single incinerator would cost £40 million. When the Contract was signed in 2006, this had risen to £96 million with a price guarantee. With inflation, this increased to £113-117 million.

The failure to start the construction by March 2010 means that the price guarantee is no longer valid and recent estimates of the cost to build the plant are over £155 million.

Jude has a strong view about allowing the incinerator to be built, but this is not a view shared by all her Labour colleagues. Labour members on the former County Council opposed the scheme as did her fellow Labour PPC Charlotte Mackenzie (Truro and Falmouth).

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Incinerator quotes

What a difference eighteen months can make.

“I was on the planning committee that voted against it and I still believe it should be turned down because it is too high a price for the people of St Dennis.” - Alec Robertson (meeting at St Dennis Working Mens Club; 25th September 2009)

“I and my Cabinet colleagues are unanimously of the view that the appeal needs to be upheld and strongly urge you to uphold it.” - Alec Robertson (letter to Eric Pickles; 7th April 2011)

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Robertson letter to Pickles angers China Clay Area

Councillors from the China Clay Area have discovered that Alec Robertson, the Leader of Cornwall Council, had written to Eric Pickles calling to him to uphold the planning appeal for an incinerator near St Dennis.

The application for a 240,000 tonne incinerator was refused by Cornwall County Council at a planning meeting on 26th March 2009 by 20 votes to one. Cllr Robertson was one of the councillors to vote against the proposal.

Staff from the Council’s planning service and legal professionals have since defended that decision at the Planning Inquiry which took place between March and October 2010. The inspector has produced a report which has been forwarded to Mr Pickles who, as Secretary of State, will have the final say as to whether the incinerator is built. His decision is expected on or before the 2nd June.

Rumours about the existence of a letter from Alec Robertson to Eric Pickles had been circulating for a couple of weeks. At an informal Cabinet meeting in St Austell on Monday 9th May, I asked Alec to confirm whether such a letter existed and had been sent. When this was confirmed, I requested that the letter be released. The letter, dated 7th April, was made public today – more than five weeks after it was sent.

Extracts from the letter state the following:

“ … I am very keen that you appreciate the dire financial consequences for this Council if you do not uphold this particular appeal.”

“I and my Cabinet colleagues are unanimously of the view that the appeal needs to be upheld and strongly urge you to uphold it.”

These comments are in stark contrast to what Cllr Robertson said when he attended a public meeting at St Dennis on 25th September 2009 with Corporate Director Tom Flanagan, other council officers and the Conservative parliamentary candidate for the area. Local people were reassured that the Council would robustly defend the appeal.

It is clear to me that the leadership of Cornwall Council has betrayed the people of St Dennis and the China Clay Area, undermining their own planning staff in the process. They told local people that they would robustly defend the appeal. But instead, and behind closed doors, they have ‘secretly’ lobbied Eric Pickles to allow the incinerator to be built. This is unforgivable.

Alec Robertson said one thing but has done the exact opposite. He is showing a total disregard for the agreed position of Cornwall Council and the integrity of the planning process.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

There is an alternative to the cuts

A couple of weeks ago, I was able to attend and support the first public meeting of the Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance at the Hall for Cornwall. The meeting was addressed by a series of union spokespeople, students and a representative of the “Save Our NHS” campaign.

Speaker after speaker condemned the severity and the regressive nature of the cuts, impacting most severely on the less-well-off. They pledged to campaign to protect vital public services and called on the government to halt various moves towards the privatisation of public sector.

There was considerable anger at the Coalition’s cuts, but alternatives were also promoted. I found that one of the most compelling cases to protect public spending came from the Public and Commercial Services Union, which has produced a pamphlet entitled simply “There is an alternative …”

The pamphlet argues that there should be an economic strategy principally based on public investment, job creation and tax justice.

It argues: “Cutting public sector jobs will increase unemployment. This would mean increased costs for government in benefit payments and lost tax revenue. If people’s incomes are taken away or cut through pay freezes they will spend less. Less consumer spending means cuts in the private sector, and lower VAT revenues.”

The PCU’s alternative is to invest in areas such as affordable housing, public transport and renewable energy, quoting research that demonstrates the “state recoups 92% of the cost of new public sector jobs” through lower benefit costs and increased tax income.

On tax justice, it notes that: “Figures produced for the Tax Justice Network show that £25 billion is lost annually in tax avoidance and a further £70 billion in tax evasion by large companies and wealthy individuals … and an additional £26 billion is going uncollected.”

It backs this up by referring to “leaked Treasury documents in 2006 which estimated the tax gap at between £97 and £150 billion.”

As you would expect, the union also slams the banking sector which “caused the recession and is ultimately responsible for the debts that the UK has amassed.” The PCU proposes a modest Robin Hood tax of 0.05% on global financial transactions carried within the UK which could raise a further £20-30 billion a year.

The PCU further points out that the government still owns over £850 billion in bank assets which, if managed properly, could yield significant annual income to the government.

The privatisation of public services is opposed and the document challenges central government to cut the “real waste,” such as the £1.8 billion spent on private sector consultants each year and the billions continuing to be splurged on Trident nuclear missiles.

I welcome the PCU’s thought-provoking critique of the approach being taken by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat government, and I would question why the government refuses to act on its recommendations.

At the present time, the actions of Cameron and Clegg seem more focused on the interests of the bankers and big business (“the few”), and not ordinary people who need good quality public services (“the many”).

This was my article for this week's Cornish Guardian.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Commemorative publication marks sixty years of MK

Mebyon Kernow has published a new booklet as part of the celebrations to mark the Party’s sixtieth anniversary year. and it is now available for purchase.

The commemorative publication is entitled "The Story of Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall." It is a 40-page A4 booklet which explores MK’s early days as a pressure group, its evolution into a fully-fledged political party, past campaigns and more recent activities, as well as an assessment of MK’s achievements.

It also features a large number of photographs, press clippings and other images from the 1950s through to the present day.

The cost of the booklet is £7.00 (including postage and packing) and can be ordered from Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall, Lanhainsworth, Fraddon Hill, Fraddon, St Columb, TR9 6PQ.

Pictured above is MK Deputy Leader Cllr Phil Rendle reading the booklet, flanked by Cllr Helen Cullimore, Cllr Stephen Richardson, John Gillingham and Cllr John Rowe.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Well done to the SNP

Voters went to the polls on Thursday 5th May and, since then, some politicians have been making a lot of noise, while others have been deathly quiet.

As the leader of MK, I would like to congratulate Alex Salmond and the SNP for their breathtaking performance in Scotland, winning 68 of the 123 seats and an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament. Truly remarkable.

Such was the extent of the SNP victory, the leaders of the Labour, Lib Dems and Conservative Parties in Scotland have all announced they will be standing down in the near future.

Sadly in Wales, Plaid Cymru has slipped back a little winning eleven seats in the Welsh Assembly. A disappointing result, but there had been a few hundred more votes, here and there, they could have won a couple more list seats in South Wales.

I am however confident that Plaid will bounce back as the true Party of Wales.

Here in Cornwall, we only got to vote in the AV referendum. As I have written before, I was part of the 30% which voted voted YES in Cornwall.

I could say a lot about the poor arguments made by campaigners for a YES vote and the orchestrated misinformation from the NO campaign … “£130 million for voting machines we are not going to buy.” But then again, what would be the point.

The second biggest story of recent days, after the SNP victory, was the significant collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote, particularly in Scotland and the North of England.

But what saddens me most of all was that, on 5th May, MK councillors should have been defending seats on Cornwall’s district councils. But this was not to be because of their shameful abolition by local Liberal Democrats in league with the Labour Party.

If only these elections had been held. I do wonder just how badly the Lib Dems would have done here?