The fight continues – but now it is Conservative versus Conservative

March 31, 2011 6:00 PM

Yet another twist has come about in the long-running Norfolk incinerator saga, reports TPA supporter John Martin.

The outrageous show trial conducted by the Leader of Norfolk County Council (NCC) Cllr Derrick Murphy – fondly now referred to as “Dear Leader” – at the NCC Cabinet meeting on 7th March remains very fresh in the minds of those who were present. But it was clear that something had to happen, and happen it soon did. Enter stage left, Cllr George Nobbs the impassioned but erudite head of the NCC Labour group (of three) with a formal request to the NCC Cabinet Scrutiny Committee to call in the NCC Cabinet decision and remit it to a full meeting of NCC to retake. In a neat parallel with a judicial review claim, Cllr Nobbs alleged procedural flaws in the process. He highlighted, in particular, the NCC Cabinet’s failure to give the defendants on trial the opportunity to rebut the charges laid against them.

It was perhaps not surprising that he was shortly followed by an alliance comprising members of the NCC Lib Dem and Green groups with their own call in request. Their focus was on health and economic issues, coupled with a timely nod in the direction of localism, given the fact that over 65,000 residents had voted against the incinerator proposal in a local poll. However, the real surprise came in the form of a third call in request made by a breakaway trio of members of the NCC Conservative group, proof if nothing more that Dear Leader’s grasp on that group is weakening. Their ground was a constitutional one, namely that the decision was effectively a policy decision and so outside the jurisdiction of the NCC Cabinet.

Allow me to try to justify the title of this piece. The show trial proceedings had opened with Cllr Nick Daubeny, the Leader of the Conservative controlled King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council (“KLWNBC”), addressing the NCC Cabinet on the result of the local poll that, no doubt much to the annoyance of the NCC Cabinet, he and his colleagues at KLWNBC had commissioned. He urged the NCC Cabinet not to go ahead with the incinerator project. This alone, never mind the later split in the ranks of the NCC Conservative group, was enough to herald the start of internecine warfare. But within days KLWNBC held a special meeting attended by hundreds of members of the public to decide what action to take in response to the NCC Cabinet decision. On the basis of recorded votes, KLWNBC passed four dramatic motions unanimously, all in condemnation of that decision. Those voting included the nine “twin-hatted” Conservative members of KLWNBC who also sit on NCC (a situation that some of them must now regret, despite the double allowances). To make matters even worse, one of their number was Cllr Janet Murphy, the wife of Dear Leader. Without being dreadfully cruel to the nine, it is fair to say that the forthcoming district council elections on 5th May could perhaps have triggered the odd damascene conversion.

So there you have it. Conservative lined up against Conservative, and in the background two Conservative MPs working hard also to ensure that the incinerator project does not go ahead.

The next development, however, introduced an element of anti-climax. The NCC Cabinet Scrutiny Committee duly met to consider the three call in requests. It soon became apparent that the members of the public who were to give evidence had only been provided with access late in the day to vital documents, and doubts about the legality of the meeting therefore arose. Fortunately, a motion to adjourn was narrowly pushed through and we now await a replay on 19th April. Until then, the NCC Cabinet decision remains suspended.

Now this is all very knockabout and lots of fun to watch, particularly if you hold to the old-fashioned view that party politics should really play no part in local government. But, dear readers, let us not lose sight of what this game is all about. At the heart of it is the decision, so far taken by a group of nine individuals, to award a PFI contract that will involve the expenditure of £670 million of public funds over twenty-five years to an Anglo/US consortium for the construction of a waste incinerator in respect of which there is, as yet, no evidence that will categorically guarantee an absence of any resultant detrimental impact on health and the environment. Furthermore, if that contract is entered into and planning permission is not then granted, NCC will face a compensation claim from the consortium capped at a generous £20.5 million.  This is, as they say, pretty serious stuff.Yet another twist has come about in the long-running Norfolk incinerator saga, reports TPA supporter John Martin.

The outrageous show trial conducted by the Leader of Norfolk County Council (NCC) Cllr Derrick Murphy – fondly now referred to as “Dear Leader” – at the NCC Cabinet meeting on 7th March remains very fresh in the minds of those who were present. But it was clear that something had to happen, and happen it soon did. Enter stage left, Cllr George Nobbs the impassioned but erudite head of the NCC Labour group (of three) with a formal request to the NCC Cabinet Scrutiny Committee to call in the NCC Cabinet decision and remit it to a full meeting of NCC to retake. In a neat parallel with a judicial review claim, Cllr Nobbs alleged procedural flaws in the process. He highlighted, in particular, the NCC Cabinet’s failure to give the defendants on trial the opportunity to rebut the charges laid against them.

It was perhaps not surprising that he was shortly followed by an alliance comprising members of the NCC Lib Dem and Green groups with their own call in request. Their focus was on health and economic issues, coupled with a timely nod in the direction of localism, given the fact that over 65,000 residents had voted against the incinerator proposal in a local poll. However, the real surprise came in the form of a third call in request made by a breakaway trio of members of the NCC Conservative group, proof if nothing more that Dear Leader’s grasp on that group is weakening. Their ground was a constitutional one, namely that the decision was effectively a policy decision and so outside the jurisdiction of the NCC Cabinet.

Allow me to try to justify the title of this piece. The show trial proceedings had opened with Cllr Nick Daubeny, the Leader of the Conservative controlled King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council (“KLWNBC”), addressing the NCC Cabinet on the result of the local poll that, no doubt much to the annoyance of the NCC Cabinet, he and his colleagues at KLWNBC had commissioned. He urged the NCC Cabinet not to go ahead with the incinerator project. This alone, never mind the later split in the ranks of the NCC Conservative group, was enough to herald the start of internecine warfare. But within days KLWNBC held a special meeting attended by hundreds of members of the public to decide what action to take in response to the NCC Cabinet decision. On the basis of recorded votes, KLWNBC passed four dramatic motions unanimously, all in condemnation of that decision. Those voting included the nine “twin-hatted” Conservative members of KLWNBC who also sit on NCC (a situation that some of them must now regret, despite the double allowances). To make matters even worse, one of their number was Cllr Janet Murphy, the wife of Dear Leader. Without being dreadfully cruel to the nine, it is fair to say that the forthcoming district council elections on 5th May could perhaps have triggered the odd damascene conversion.

So there you have it. Conservative lined up against Conservative, and in the background two Conservative MPs working hard also to ensure that the incinerator project does not go ahead.

The next development, however, introduced an element of anti-climax. The NCC Cabinet Scrutiny Committee duly met to consider the three call in requests. It soon became apparent that the members of the public who were to give evidence had only been provided with access late in the day to vital documents, and doubts about the legality of the meeting therefore arose. Fortunately, a motion to adjourn was narrowly pushed through and we now await a replay on 19th April. Until then, the NCC Cabinet decision remains suspended.

Now this is all very knockabout and lots of fun to watch, particularly if you hold to the old-fashioned view that party politics should really play no part in local government. But, dear readers, let us not lose sight of what this game is all about. At the heart of it is the decision, so far taken by a group of nine individuals, to award a PFI contract that will involve the expenditure of £670 million of public funds over twenty-five years to an Anglo/US consortium for the construction of a waste incinerator in respect of which there is, as yet, no evidence that will categorically guarantee an absence of any resultant detrimental impact on health and the environment. Furthermore, if that contract is entered into and planning permission is not then granted, NCC will face a compensation claim from the consortium capped at a generous £20.5 million.  This is, as they say, pretty serious stuff.

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