Localism challenged in Cornwall

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, has been accused by MPs of flying in the face of his own localism agenda, following a decision to allow a proposed energy-from-waste plant to be built in a small Cornish town.

The proposed 240,000-tonne-a-year capacity facility, which will be known as the ‘Cornwall Energy Recovery Centre’, will be located at Rostowrack Farm, near St Dennis, Cornwall.

Waste management contractor SITA is developing the facility under its 30-year private finance initiative contract to treat Cornwall’s municipal waste.

The proposals have been met with strong local opposition since 2005 and were thrown out by the now-defunct local council in March 2009. However, waste management contractor SITA later lodged an appeal, which has now been upheld by Mr Pickles.

The decision follows a letter from the Conservative Leader of Cornwall Council, Alec Robertson, urging Pickles to uphold the appeal due to the Council’s ‘dire financial straits’.

Stephen Gilbert, MP for St Austell and Newquay, described the decision as “a real slap in the face for the local people” and said that he was outraged that Robertson had asked “his Conservative chum” Pickles to approve this application.

“I don't know how, on the one hand, the Secretary of State can credibly talk about localism and yet on the other hand impose a decision over the heads of local representatives and against the wishes of local people”, said Gilbert.

This decision is not the first time that Mr Pickles has intervened on a proposed EfW development; in February 2011, he gave the go-ahead for Viridor to develop an incinerator at Ardley in Oxfordshire, despite the county council’s planning committee rejecting the proposals

A spokesperson for the CLG stated that planning law is part of the role the Secretary of State plays. “I don’t think that the localism agenda is about handing everything over carte blanch to local people; there have to be some things that remain national issues and one of those is big infrastructure projects”, he stated.

Pickles introduced the Localism Bill in December 2010, as part of the coalition’s aim of empowering local people. The bill aims to reform the planning system, giving local people new rights to shape the development of their community and forcing large companies to consult residents before submitting planning applications.