Cornwall Councillors from the China Clay Area have described themselves as “shell-shocked” after discovering 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 / recommendations which have 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 meeting in St Austell on Monday 9th May, Cllr Dick Cole asked Alec Robertson to confirm whether such a letter existed and had been sent. When this was confirmed, Cllr Cole 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.
Cllr Dick Cole (St Enoder), who co-ordinated the production of a 33,000 word ‘proof of evidence’ on behalf of the local community for the Public Inquiry, said:
“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.”
Cllr Fred Greenslade (St Dennis), who is the Chairman of St Dennis Parish Council, added:
“This letter shows a willingness by Cllr Robertson to attempt to disrupt the natural path of the planning process by introducing financial pressures into the argument. As a member of a planning committee, I have been trained not to take into account financial implications when deciding my voting preference for any application.
“The Mid Cornwall Area seems to be an expendable pawn in the ‘incinerator at any cost’ mentality of the Leader and certain officers at Cornwall Council. I deplore this blatant attempt made by the Leader of the Council to influence Eric Pickles and sway a planning decision to safeguard a waste contract that is no longer fit for purpose.’’
Cllr Des Curnow (St Stephen) said:
“It would appear that the Leader has deliberately tried to interfere and influence the Secretary of State, even though he attended a Public Meeting in St Dennis where he stated he would support local people to oppose the incinerator. If this is the case he cannot be trusted to hold the position of Leader of Cornwall Council.
“His honesty and integrity is questionable. Who knows what will happen when future decisions have to be made by the Council? My respect for the Leader no longer exists.”