Stop Hinkley Press Release

22 October 2009

EdF enticed councils to restrict public information on Hinkley C planning

Probably illegal contracts make Hinkley planning issues secret

EdF, who plan to build two giant reactors at Hinkley Point, have insisted upon a series of supposedly legally binding agreements with Sedgemoor, West Somerset and Somerset Councils allowing EdF to exclude certain planning information from the Freedom of Information Act. (1) This move has occurred despite legal advice to councils that they cannot 'contract out' of the Freedom of Information Act. (2)

The move is part of the controversial Planning Performance Agreement (PPA) which all three councils have recently signed up to, agreeing that EdF can pay an estimated £1 million fee (3) for background planning research and consultancy into issues raised by the new build project. Stop Hinkley has said this is a clear conflict of interest.

Another clause in the document seems to legally require councils to consult EdF before releasing any requested information.

The move follows the acquisition of a letter in January this year showing that a Sedgemoor Council officer had secretly made a request to EdF for £750,000 towards planning and legal fees over the Hinkley C project. The controversial letter had been obtained through the Freedom of information Act by nuclearspin.org and was the subject of much media coverage.(4)

Jim Duffy, spokesman for Stop Hinkley said: "EdF are putting draconian restrictions on local and national democracy through this document. But their enticement of the councils to do this is probably something which the law says the councils cannot do."

"They know we and others have been using the Act to flush out embarrassing information about their chummy and secretive relationship with local councils and so are gagging the councils and campaign groups. It's a scary world now with a nuclear company trying, probably illegally, to restrict our rights in a way that resembles nuclear secrecy during the cold war."

"In the past we have also used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information about the safety of local reactors, discovering for example just how concerned the nuclear regulator was about cracks in Hinkley B's reactor cores (5) and how worryingly corroded Oldbury's reactor cores were (6)."

"EdF now seems to be trying to clamp down on justified information which may be in the public interest. No doubt they would like this restriction to progress to nuclear safety. The move is appalling, draconian and a step in the wrong direction."

Jim Duffy, Stop Hinkley Coordinator

  Notes:
1 Article in Electrical Review, October 2009 edition:

Draconian restrictions

As with all planning applications, Electricite de France's proposed new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point has to be the subject of a local government impact assessment. The area in question straddles two district councils, West Somerset and Sedgemoor. As usual in such circumstances, the councils are being funded for their work by the prospective developers. This could cost around £1m.

It is normal practice for the conclusions of such assessment studies to be made publicly available. Not in this case. Before agreeing to fund such work, Electricite de France has insisted upon a series of legally binding agreements with the district councils. One allows the company to "clearly identify...information that it considers should not be disclosed by the councils under the Freedom of Information Act." Another compels the councils to "consult the company prior to the release of any requested information." Such draconian restrictions can only be intended to ensure nothing likely to be prejudicial to the case for the new power station will ever fall into the hands of any of the majority of people who are - according to opinion polls - still deeply suspicious of the Great God Atom.

There is history here. In the 1980s the Hinkley Point site was the proposed construction site for a new nuclear power station by the then-Central Electricity Generating Board. Opposition was co-ordinated by a body called COLA, the Consortium of Opposing Local Authorities. Prominent members were Sedgemoor and West Somerset councils. It was the subject of a lengthy, and bitter, public inquiry. And, lest we forget, that power station was never built.

http://www.electricalreview.co.uk/features/118644/Opinion_-_Gossip

2 From ICO's Freedom of Information Act Awareness Guidance No 2 Information Provided in Confidence:

The Access Code issued under s.45 of the Act by the Lord Chancellor giving advice on the handling of requests under the Act contains the following passage about contract terms with commercial organisations:

"When entering into contracts public authorities should refuse to include contractual terms which purport to restrict the disclosure of information held by the authority and relating to the contract beyond the restrictions permitted by the Act. Public authorities cannot "contract out" of their obligations under the Act. Unless an exemption provided for under the Act is applicable in relation to any particular information, a public authority will be obliged to disclose that information in response to a request, regardless of the terms of any contract."

3 Sedgemoor Chief Executive Kerry Rickards admitted the figure on BBC Radio Somerset in a debate with Jim Duffy from Stop Hinkley on 17th July this year.
4 Click here for Stop Hinkley press release showing Sedgemoor letter sent to EdF asking for payment of £750,000
5 Guardian front page article on Hinkley B cracks. Part of a 6 page article triggered by documents obtained by Stop Hinkley under the Freedom of Information Act: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2006/jul/05/energy.frontpagenews
6 Is nuke plant safe? Western Daily Press. Article and BBC West documentary on safety-related corrosion at Oldbury triggered by documents obtained by Stop Hinkley under FoI: http://www.stophinkley.org/NewsPages/news%20050905.htm
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