Press release: 15 July 2010
Government re-consultation causes delay in nuclear policy
Energy Minister Charles Hendry today announced there will be a re-consultation of the widely criticised Energy National Policy Statements (NPS). Originally expected to be ready by the end of July, Hendry has said it will not be ready until Spring next year when Parliament can debate it.
The announcement throws the planning process into some confusion as there will be no list of nuclear sites with which developers such as EdF can line up their planning applications.
The text of the announcement suggests that the Government fears being challenged over aspects of the Policy Statements which may not be legally watertight. The suggestion is that the re-consultation and consequent delay will benefit the developers in terms of certainty but oddly states that a nuclear power station is still possible by 2018.
Friends of the Earth earlier this year promised to mount a legal challenge over the first NPS consultation framework. RSPB, World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace all hinted strongly that aspects of the NPS were open to challenge.
The specific parts of the Policy Statements highlighted by the announcement are called Appraisals of Sustainability. The AoS must, for example, include 'comparison with reasonable alternatives to the preferred policy'. In other words renewable energy should be thoroughly investigated as an alternative to the policy of introducing new nuclear power at any specific site.
Other planning anomalies have been raised by campaigners such as the fact that no new reactor designs will have been licensed by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) while being assessed by the IPC (or its successor). The Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process, whose current reactor design assessment is expected to be finished in June next year, is not legally binding and separate from the NII licensing process. Objections have also been raised over the transparency of the GDA process.
The planning and licensing process seems to have lots of 'carts before horses'.
Hinkley Point was the subject of a planning application in 2006 for a twelve turbine wind-farm, later rejected by local planners, despite over 4,000 signatures in its support, following objections on safety grounds by British Energy, now owned by EdF. British Energy also objected on the grounds that developers may want to build a nuclear power station on the same site in the future.
The National Policy Statements are blueprints by which the newly created Infrastructure Planning Commission can judge applications. Without the Policy Statements, duly designated and signed-off by the Secretary of State, it is difficult to see how the applications for nuclear power stations such as Hinkley C can be scrutinised.
However a spokesman for the Infrastructure planning Commission said to Stop Hinkley that a case could still be examined and a recommendation made 'under a hierarchy of policy'. When asked how the public or even the IPC commissioners could judge what questions to put in the planning process without a blueprint we were told they would come back to us after seeking advice.
The IPC's future was also touched on in today's announcement, as the Conservatives and Liberals had both promised changes to the planning quango. Another announcement will be made in the summer.
Jim Duffy, Stop Hinkley Coordinator said: "This was a surprise announcement which raises lots of questions: Will the alternatives to nuclear be thoroughly examined in the new consultation? Will the Hinkley C application be allowed to go ahead as planned in December? If so, how will it be managed in the absence of a planning blueprint? And what status will the new reactor licensing team have, pending approval from the safety regulator, during the 'fast-track' planning process?"
"A nine month delay from the Government on top of EdF's six-month planning application (1) delay looks likely to affect their hopes for a 2018 opening of the two massive reactors at Hinkley C. DECC must have become twitchy at the prospect that the widely criticised Policy Statements pushed through by the Labour Party were not legally watertight. It may be that the Government has not sufficiently examined the prospects for renewable energy as a sustainable alternative to nuclear and the Liberal Democrats have pushed for a re-evaluation."