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MP Steve Barclay launches fresh offensive against his own Government over Wisbech incinerator

‘This is the wrong scheme in the wrong place’ says NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay

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MP Steve Barclay has put himself in the firing line of his own Government by accusing it of undermining “legally binding targets” to halve the amount of household waste going to landfill or incineration.

With new polls showing that even the Parliamentary seat of prime minister Rishi Sunak is under threat, Mr Barclay, the MP for NE Cambridgeshire, is taking few prisoners in his bid to halt the £450m mega incinerator for Wisbech.

Despite being Environment Secretary in Sunak’s Cabinet and holding multiple other Government and Cabinet roles in recent years, most accept Mr Barclay has been out manoeuvred in trying to halt MVV’s march into Wisbech to build their energy from waste plant.

In recent days Mr Barclay has even been accused of breaking the Ministerial Code by ploughing ahead with opposition to the scheme and also faces tough questioning from Labour over civil servants concerns about whether he had done enough to avoid a conflict of interest when it comes to issuing an environmental permit for the Medworth, Wisbech, incinerator.

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Now a half page article has appeared in a local magazine – Discovering Wisbech – that might more appropriately be headed ‘Barclay’s last stand’ in preference to their editor’s banal choice of ‘incinerator fight goes on’.

The article emphasises the passion and commitment of Mr Barclay to find ways and means to halt the incinerator.

“The fight must continue to oppose this scheme given the massive blot on the landscape it will cause,” he writes.

“I am committed to doing everything possible to stop it.”

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MP Steve Barclay in March 2020 addressing a public meeting opposed to the mega incinerator in Wisbech.

MP Steve Barclay in March 2020 addressing a public meeting opposed to the mega incinerator in Wisbech.

He reminds readers: “Only a year ago, the Government introduced legally binding targets to halve the amount of residual waste going to landfill or incineration.

“Making progress on this target undermines the case for new incinerators.”

Mr Barclay has one of the safest Conservative seats in the country – his majority of 29,993 at the last election in 2019 looks safe even with a catastrophic fall in Tory support in every national opinion poll.

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But Mr Barclay is also aware that living just a few miles from Wisbech, the prospect of entering the town during the three-to-four-year construction period for the incinerator, and living with its aftermath, is not something he relishes.

And certainly not when he begins door knocking seeking support for another term – if course he decides to stay.

“This is the wrong scheme in the wrong place, which will have a detrimental effect on our local community,” he tells Discovering Wisbech readers.

“I will continue to fight this proposal and have already held meetings with Fenland District Council to support them in bringing forward a judicial review.”

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And he reminds readers that MVV’s bid to allow the plant to generate just over the 50 megawatts of power threshold allowed it to be determined nationally rather than locally.

“It is a scheme that would never have been granted planning permission by the local authority,” he added.

MP Steve Barclay on a site visit in 2020 to Algores Way, Wisbech. After the visit he said: ‘I remain strongly opposed to the proposals to build a waste incinerator in Wisbech. I have already flagged my concern to the relevant Minister and will continue to outline the problems with this scheme’

MP Steve Barclay on a site visit in 2020 to Algores Way, Wisbech. After the visit he said: ‘I remain strongly opposed to the proposals to build a waste incinerator in Wisbech. I have already flagged my concern to the relevant minister and will continue to outline the problems with this scheme’

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Mr Barclay continues to find himself between a rock and a hard place and it is possible that between balancing the mood of his NE Cambs constituents who overwhelmingly oppose the incinerator and his own Government’s approval for it, he may have broken the Ministerial Code.

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The code – the Government ‘bible’ – sets out strict guidance for MPs who become ministers and are then faced with issues that affect their constituencies.

It is clause 6.6 that may have influenced civil servants to complain since it clearly states “ministers are advised to take particular care in cases relating to planning applications in their constituencies or other similar issues.

“In all such cases, it is important that they make clear that they are representing the views of their constituents, avoid criticism of Government policies and confine themselves to comments which could reasonably be made by those who are not ministers.

“Once a decision has been announced, it should normally be accepted without question or criticism.”

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And it is that final sentence that Mr Barclay may have difficulty in reconciling with his public statement as recently as last month.

“The decision by the Planning Inspector and Secretary of State to approve the planning element of this flawed scheme is terrible news for our area,” he said.

“As both a Member of Parliament and a resident living just outside Wisbech I remain strongly opposed to this proposal and will continue to do everything possible to fight it.

WisWIN took their protest to Parliament and to meet MP Steve Barclay

WisWIN took their protest to Parliament and to meet MP Steve Barclay

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“This is not the end of the application process as the developer also needs an environmental permit to operate, which has not yet been granted, and the planning decision may be subject to judicial review.”

Mr Barclay has been told a decision on the environmental permit will be determined by Mark Spencer, his Minister of State, now of course Sir Mark Spencer after being knighted last week by Mr Sunak.

A government spokesman said: “The secretary of state is recused from the decision. No decision has been taken. Mark Spencer is the minister responsible and would take any decision on this issue.”

Shadow Environment Secretary Labour MP Steve Reed said civil servants had “raised serious issues”, and he too questioned whether there was a potential breach by Mr Barclay of the Ministerial Code.

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The decision to approve it was made in February by the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Claire Coutinho.

She approved the application by Medworth CHP to build the energy-from-waste Combined Heat and Power (EfW CHP) plant at Algores Way, Wisbech.

But even that no longer seems as straightforward as it once was for it since been revealed that the decision was taken by Lord Callanan, a junior energy minister, while Ms Coutinho was out of the country.

Meanwhile Fenland District Council awaits legal advice on whether a judicial review is affordable, appropriate, or likely to succeed.

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