Barclay asked if a minister could block waste incinerator plans


Steve Barclay

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay personally intervened to ask if a minister could stop waste incinerators being licensed in England, the BBC has reported.

According to the BBC, Barclay made an urgent request to government lawyers the day after planning permission was granted to build an Energy-from-Waste (EfW) plant in his Cambridgeshire constituency. The Environment Secretary has vocally opposed the planned waste incinerator since proposals were first submitted to the government in 2019.

Lawyers working on behalf of the company behind the proposed facility at Wisbech MVV Environment have written to the government to threaten legal action if the pause on environmental permits for new waste incineration facilities is not lifted, the BBC reported.

MVV Environment declined to comment when approached by Circular Online.

Civil service officials previously raised concerns about a possible, or perceived, conflict between Barclay’s constituency and ministerial roles in approving the Wisbech EfW facility.

The Ministerial Code requires ministers to ensure there is no conflict of interest with their role as a constituency MP.

Barclay has now confirmed he formally recused himself from the decision-making process on permits on 27 February. On the same day, the Planning Inspectorate publicly confirmed that the Wisbech plant in the Environment Secretary’s constituency had permission to be built.

On 27 February 2024, following advice from the Permanent Secretary, I formally recused myself from any decisions relating to incinerator policy.

The BBC said it has seen correspondence understood to be between Barclay and lawyers sent on 21 February asking if ministers could stop waste incinerators from being licensed.

According to the report, it said: “The secretary of state has asked whether a secretary of state/minister can stop new permits and/or revoke ones for sites not in use until an assessment has been made of the need for residual treatment?”

In legal advice, the BBC said was leaked to to the organisation, a “top government lawyer” warned the plan would be “unlawful” and raised “serious concerns of perceived bias”.

On 17 April, Barclay said he had not sought legal advice on the MVV Environment facility proposed in North East Cambridgeshire in his capacity as Secretary of State. He also said that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had not sought legal advice regarding the facility.

On 27 February, Recycling Minister Robbie Moore proposed a ban on issuing permits until March 2025, the current pause is only until May 2024, to Chief Executive Environment Agency Philip Duffy.

Labour said Moore’s letter raised concerns that Barclay had abused his position and “colluded” with junior ministers to cover it up.

Shadow Environment Secretary Steve Reed, who previously questioned if the Barclay had breached the ministerial code over his role in the decision, said the public needed to know “who did Barclay try to persuade, when and was it rushed through to avoid scrutiny?”

Energy from waste
Defra has issued a temporary pause on the issuance of environmental permits for new waste incineration facilities in England.

When approached for comment by Circular Online, Defra said its position was covered in a response by the Environment Secretary to a parliamentary question from Steve Reed asking Barclay when he recused himself.

Barclay replied: “On 27 February 2024, following advice from the Permanent Secretary, I formally recused myself from any decisions relating to incinerator policy. I put in place with the Permanent Secretary a formal recusal process which means I have no involvement in any decisions or sight of advice related to incinerator policy. All decisions on this policy will be taken by a junior Minister in the department who has no relevant interest.

“As I stated at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Select Committee on 26 March 2024, I had previously flagged my constituency interest, and had said the policy needed to be delegated to another minister, recognising the importance of the Ministerial Code in terms of conflicts of interests, and also the perception of any conflicts of interest. As soon as I was notified by the Permanent Secretary of the need to formally recuse myself, that is exactly what I did.”

Send this to a friend