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Fenland Council hits the panic button to stop £450m Wisbech incinerator

Fenland District Council to turn to WisWIN and UKWIN for help.

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A campaign group – snubbed and ignored by Conservative councillors over the years – has suddenly come centre stage as Fenland District Council battles to stave off the threat of a £450m mega incinerator for Wisbech.

WisWIN – the key campaign group opposed to the incinerator where one of the coordinators is former independent councillor Virginia Bucknor – has been the most vociferous and persistent critic of the proposal by MVV Environment Ltd to develop a new energy from waste combined heat and power facility generating electricity and steam on land at Algores Way, Wisbech.

But it has worked in isolation from Wisbech Town Council who refused to join forces and pursued a ‘go it alone’ stance without the campaigning zeal, energy and expertise garnered by WisWIN.

How much, if at all, the disdain felt by some Tory councillors towards WisWIN affected the Government’s surprise decision last week to grant approval for the incinerator will never be known.

Site for massive Wisbech incinerator ,  Wisbech Saturday 24 February 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

But today, with the town reeling from the decision, and Fenland District Council meeting to decide what to do next, WisWIN is finally coming into its own.

Visual produced by MVV of what their new Wisbech plant will look like

Visual produced by MVV of what their new Wisbech plant will look like

First will be an email tomorrow inviting WisWIN to contribute, via their links with a national and well-established anti incinerator campaign group, technical information to help form the legal argument needed if there is to be any hope of stopping the incinerator from being built.

At Government level the confusion over the issuing of a development consent order for the project, and its subsequent withdrawal 24 hours later for ’clarification’, is unlikely to reverse the original notice issued by the Planning Inspectorate.

Energy secretary Claire Coutinho signed off the approval for MVV Environment to build the Medworth plant, which is scheduled to be one of the biggest of its kind in Europe.

Subject to final confirmation, the only way it can be stopped is through the courts – and that means a judicial review.

Now Fenland District Council is to turn to WisWIN and UKWIN (The United Kingdom Without Incineration Network) for help.

Through gritted teeth for sure but Tory controlled Fenland Council is facing a crisis of confidence over both the decision by its own Tory Government to allow the incinerator and the inability of its own Tory MP and Government Minister Steve Barclay to prevent it.

MVV Energy from Waste plant at Devonport, Plymouth. It deals with waste from Plymouth, Devon and Torbay that is not recycled or composted and generates electricity as well as usable heat in combined heat and power (CHP) mode

MVV Energy from Waste plant at Devonport, Plymouth. It deals with waste from Plymouth, Devon and Torbay that is not recycled or composted and generates electricity as well as usable heat in combined heat and power (CHP) mode

UKWIN has been around since 2007 and has achieved considerable success in articulating solid technical reasons why incinerators on the scale of that proposed for Wisbech – and many smaller plants – ought not to be built.

UKWIN National Coordinator Shlomo Dowen said: “The expansion of incineration in England has got to stop. Wales introduced a halt to new incinerators in 2021 and Scotland did the same in 2022.

2019: MP Steve Barclay visits Algores Way, Wisbech, to highlight his campaign to stop a mega incinerator being built there. As we learnt yesterday, the campaign failed.

2019: MP Steve Barclay visits Algores Way, Wisbech, to highlight his campaign to stop a mega incinerator being built there. As we learnt last week, the campaign failed.

“For years we have seen incineration increase, with more and more incinerators burning material that should have been recycled or composted. If England is to increase recycling we must stop building new burners and start diverting recyclate away from incinerators”.

Today Fenland Council – at a full council meeting attended by up to 50 members of the public -agreed a motion that will authorise officers to explore the options of a judicial review.

But before then they need to assemble the technical reasons why the Wisbech incinerator could – or must – be opposed.

Council leader Chris Boden described the decision to allow MVV to go ahead with the Wisbech incinerator as being wrong and “in the wrong location, at the wrong time and made for the wrong reason.

“Very few people in this room would disagree”.

But he reminded councillors there was no right of appeal and the only way the decision can be challenged is by way of a judicial review (JR).

Even then, he said, a JR does not look at the evidence or technical arguments.

He said there were few grounds upon which a JR can be successful “and the most common is procedural irregularity or the decision is perverse because of irrationality in that no reasonable Secretary of State could come to that decision based on the evidence in front of her”.

He said he had received an email from Mrs Bucknor of WisWIN advising that UKWIN is available for support “and I have consulted with officers.

“I have been told that we must appoint our own counsel in order to decide on a JR review, and we cannot contract this out, especially to a pressure group although their information may be extremely valuable “.

Wisbech says NO to incinerator. Market Place, Wisbech. Protest rally addressed by Mayor Dr Nik Johnson 
Sunday 27 June 2021.
Picture by Terry Harris.

For that reason, he said, he had asked Mrs Bucknor “as a matter of urgency” to provide detailed arguments in terms of potential grounds for a JR to be sought.

But he emphasised that even if mistakes had been made, it would not automatically guarantee success to stop the incinerator. There had to have been a procedural failure, he said.

Cllr Boden said it was a specialised area and the council needed specialist knowledge in order “to make sure we make the best decisions we can”.

Emphasising it was “urgent”, he invited possible those offering grounds for appeal to send these to Fenland Council officers this week: he welcomed any input from UKWIN.

Cllr Boden said his “understanding” of the notice being published – even though it was withdrawn the following day – triggered the 6-week period for a JR review (my own understanding however is that Cllr Boden is incorrect, and the 6-week period will only commence once the consent order is re published).

But Cllr Boden is right that the time scales are tight.

“I am not going to pretend we are guaranteed success, very far from it, but we will do our utmost,” he said.

Site for massive Wisbech incinerator ,  Wisbech Saturday 24 February 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

Site for massive Wisbech incinerator ,  Wisbech Saturday 24 February 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

He knew of a “very respected and experienced King’s Counsel of the highest quality with a lot of experience of large infrastructure projects” that Fenland Council might turn to for advice.

And he pledged that the council owed it to the people of Fenland to get the decision changed.

Cllr Steve Tierney, who tabled today’s motion to seek legal advice ahead of a possible JR, said he felt “positive about it, but I am not a lawyer”.

Cllr Dave Patrick urged the council to work with UKWIN who he said had offered to help prepare a case. They were familiar with the process and had been involved in several successful judicial reviews.

Asking to be the link between WisWIN and the council, he said UKWIN had already identified five key areas from the decision which were open to challenge.

He also added that WisWIN had received offers of financial support to help finance a JR.

Cllr Steve Count said he had yet to get his head around the decision, given that all views had concluded that it ought not to be built in Wisbech.

He said Cambridgeshire roads would suffer as a result of Norfolk’s waste being shipped to the new incinerator.

“We have to fight this,” he added.

Two years ago, Wisbech Town Council set up a £5,000 fighting fund and up to £30,000 in ‘reserves’ to fight the incinerator proposals. A detailed breakdown of how much of that was spent has never been published.

Although the Planning Inspectorate has pulled its decision notice, you can still view these courtesy of MVV Ltd. Their website has no doubt that permission has been granted. Follow this link:

https://www.mvv-medworthchp.co.uk/documents

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