It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Bellingham on securing this debate on a subject that is of such importance to his constituents. I am always in awe of him, particularly when he arrives here at the head of an army of men and women from Norfolk who have turned out, in numbers that any of us in this place would envy in an election, in support of the cause for which he argues so eloquently.
I know my hon. Friend will understand that with the application having been called in by the Secretary of State, which he was keen to see happen, it is now not possible for me to discuss the details of the application, for fear of prejudicing that process of inquiry and call-in. However, it may be helpful if I set out briefly the general national policy background for waste policy against which the decision will be made and talk a little how about the process of public inquiry will work, so that his constituents can understand how they can engage and ensure that their opinions are taken into account in that process.
My hon. Friend recognised, and indeed saluted, the Government’s commitment to a zero-waste economy. In preparing for this debate, I came across a phrase that I thought was horrific: the waste hierarchy. When we dig behind the phrase, however, we discover a very intelligent and simple concept, which is that the first priority should be to reduce our use of any material; the second priority, if we cannot reduce our use of the material, should be to reuse it; the third priority, if we cannot reduce our use of it or reuse it, should be to recycle it; if we cannot do any of those things, we should think about energy recovery from burning it; and only as the last resort should we consider disposing of it. My hon. Friend is right to point out that energy recovery comes way down the list. To the extent that it is possible to push stuff higher up, into one of the other categories of reduction, reuse or recycling, that is better.
The Government require every area to have a plan for waste management. I recognise that Norfolk county council has such a plan and congratulate the council on that, because that is the key basis for the decisions it makes. As a Government who genuinely would like to see as many local decisions as possible, we would prefer local authorities to make decisions on waste, as on other matters, for themselves, having put in place the right policies through a plan on which they have consulted widely with local people. Our default position therefore is that we would prefer a local authority in Norfolk to take this decision. Sometimes, however, issues are so controversial or their impact will be so widespread that the Secretary of State has the right to call in the decisions. To be clear, the criteria suggest that if an application might conflict with a national policy on an important matter, have a long-term impact on economic growth, have significant effects beyond the immediate locality, or give rise to substantial controversy, there is a case for the Secretary of State to call it in to make the decision at national level.
After my hon. Friend and all the other Norfolk MPs, plus others—a total of 20 MPs, I believe—and many other people suggested that the Secretary of State should call in the application, the Secretary of State took the decision to do so. What we now start on is the process of public inquiry by an inspector. Let me briefly set out how that will work.