Stop Hinkley anger at nuclear academy gifts

Western Morning News, June 16, 2009,

AN anti-nuclear campaign group has complained to the public spending watchdog about deals involved in the creation of a nuclear training academy at a Westcountry college.

Sedgemoor District Council in Somerset and the South West Regional Development Agency (RDA) have been criticised for gifting land and funding to Bridgwater College for its planned training hub. The council handed over a one hectare parcel of land, valued at £85,000, to the college and the RDA pledged £1.9 million to the development.

Stop Hinkley, which has campaigned against the nearby Hinkley Point nuclear power station, has referred the moves to the Audit Commission.

It claims the deals contradict the Government's promise that nuclear power can be developed without hand-outs from the public purse.

Sedgemoor council says councillors weighed up the potential loss of income from the "landlocked" real estate - which is already being leased to the college under a 25-year deal - with the benefits to the economy of a skills centre.

The RDA argues the industry's ageing workforce means there will be a skills gap, and the centre will train a new generation of engineers that the industry needs.

Jim Duffy, spokesman for Stop Hinkley, said: "The replies from Sedgemoor council are not convincing.

"Even if the land is tied to the college, the council could have pushed harder to get payment for the site, which will benefit the nuclear industry, especially when £1.9 million is being pumped into the project by another arm of the taxpayer.

"Sedgemoor and the RDA seem far too chummy with the nuclear industry which the Government says should pay its own way."

At just 12 miles from Hinkley Point, the college is thought to be ideally placed to provide highly-skilled workers during a major shift for the industry.

Since 1976, a reactor at Hinkley Point on the Bristol Channel shoreline has supplied millions of homes with power. It is set to be decommissioned in 2016.

Meanwhile, around 86 hectares of land at the site has been included on a list of 11 potential areas where a new wave of nuclear power stations could be up and running from 2017.

The contested land was originally two football pitches. Half the site is already developed as a full size artificial pitch, the remaining land was to be developed as sports facilities available for public hire.

Stop Hinkley contends the council's donation of public land will deny future revenue to taxpayers and benefit commercial companies which are supposedly financially mature.

It has also reported the RDA donation to the Audit Commission as it represents "an indirect public subsidy to the nuclear industry".

A spokeswoman for Sedgemoor said there had been no objections to public notices concerning the academy, which will be allied to a performing arts centre, and a workforce with "up-to-date engineering skills" will boost pay locally.

She said: "The Energy Skills Centre will have significant positive benefits for the residents of Sedgemoor, coming at a time when there is very significant prospect of substantial investment in energy-related activity in the local area.

"The centre will ensure the local community will be trained in the skills needed and that local people will benefit from the increase in the labour market."

An RDA spokesman said the funding, agreed in principle, did not represent subsidising the nuclear industry and pointed to other strong sectors it is investing in, including aerospace.

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