Stop Hinkley Press Release
20 January 2009
Council's secret nuclear cash request
A Sedgemoor District Council officer made a secret request for three-quarters of a million pounds from two nuclear companies to help with planning issues for Hinkley C, raising questions of conflict of interest and triggering a row with neighbouring West Somerset District Councillors.
Following discussions with the industry, Doug Bamsey, Corporate Director of Regeneration for Sedgemoor, made the formal request to EdF and British Energy in July. The huge funding was due to pay for a planning officer and legal advice over which Sedgemoor offered to take "a lead role" working with adjacent councils.
Stop Hinkley campaigners have slammed the planned deal as secretive, misjudged, creating a conflict of interest while also flouting Royal Institute planning standards.
"Sedgemoor District Council is willing to provide a lead role and work with adjacent councils to provide the process with strategic and coordinated responses to local issues through the agreed Nuclear Energy Board."
"It is however unable to bear the financial burden of this. I therefore request that you consider making funds available to help us create an energy policy / planning officer who would be the key coordinating point, with admin capacity and a working fund for meeting rooms and so on. I estimate this to be in the order of approx £100k pa over the next 5 years."
Doug Bamsey also asked for "a technical or consultancy budget to be able to seek professional expertise to help us understand the issues and inform the debate. This would be predominantly for legal, economic or transport assessments. This is difficult to estimate but I would expect this to be in the order of £200 - 250k in this initial 2-year period."
However the Sedgemoor officer failed to discuss the issue with the Somerset Nuclear Energy Board (SNEB) a consortium of three local councils with an interest in Hinkley planning issues. The first meeting of SNEB occurred in September, three months after the letter was sent.
Sedgemoor councillors too were kept in the dark according to Hamp councillor Brian Smedley, opposed to Hinkley C, who said: "I didn't know anything about the request but now the Labour Group Leader has written to Council Leader Duncan McGinty asking what's going on."
Nor was the issue discussed with West Somerset Councillors who have planning authority over Hinkley Point. Jon Freeman, Cabinet Councillor for West Somerset, said: "None of us knew anything about this, we were all shocked and horrified to hear about this." Reclaiming West Somerset's usurped planning role from Sedgemoor, he continued: "Hinkley Point is in West Somerset, not Sedgemoor. As planning law currently stands, it is West Somerset District Council who are the planning authority covering Hinkley, not Sedgemoor." [See Memo below]
It is not known what role Somerset County Council played in the fiasco but Somerset is one of the three councils taking part in the Somerset Nuclear Energy Board. Senior Lib-Dem councillors unsuccessfully attempted to swing the Lib-Dem group's current anti-nuclear position to favour Hinkley C. Former Deputy Leader Paul Buchanan said: "I vigorously opposed that and reaffirmed our policy two years ago." Lib-Dem national policy is also against nuclear new build. Councillor Buchanan said of the planned deal: "This is against lots of rules."
Planning consultant Hugh Richards endorses this view: "It clearly conflicts with the ethical and professional standards of the Royal Town Planning Institute, and this should be made clear to any applicants. There is a procedure for legitimately levying a fee on planning applicants, and it is this procedure that should be followed if and when a planning application is received." Referring to the 'Common Good Fund' originally set up to harness funds for 'social benefit' levied on decommissioning activities, Hugh Richards added: "The idea that such a fund could take 'contributions' from a prospective planning applicant for new reactors is corrupt." [Memo from Hugh Richards, BArch MA MRTPI, Planning and Design Consultant]
The hundreds of thousands of pounds has not been handed over. A recent SDC request to the Government that they should fund planning arrangements has now been made.
Jim Duffy, Stop Hinkley spokesman, said: "It's easy to imagine nuclear companies expecting a smoother passage for Hinkley C had they paid this premium. Sedgemoor made a bad mistake here, not least in doing this behind the backs of its own and West Somerset councillors. Secrecy and nuclear power obviously still go hand-in-hand. The request also flouted Royal Institute planning standards and was premature as EdF cannot submit plans for another two years while the safety of their giant reactor design is being assessed."
Jim Duffy, Stop Hinkley Coordinator