Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Council secretly asks energy firms for £750,000 to help it decide nuclear planning applications

A SECRET district council plea for funding from companies planning to build new nuclear power stations at Hinkley Point has been branded ‘unethical’ by anti-nuclear campaigners.
Sedgemoor District Council wrote to British Energy and EDF asking for £750,000 to help the authority process planning applications which the two companies were expected to submit.
The letter was written last July by the council’s director of regeneration, Doug Bamsey, but has only just been made public following a Freedom of Information request.
Mr Bamsey said the council was willing to provide a ‘lead role and work with adjacent councils’ to provide strategic and co-ordinated responses to local issues.
He wrote: “It is, however, unable to bear the financial burden of this.
“I therefore request you consider making funds available to help us create an energy policy/planning officer who would be the key co-ordinating point, with admin capacity and a working fund for meeting rooms and so on.
“I estimate this to be in the order of approx £100,000 per annum over the next five years.”
He also asked for a further £200,000 to £250,000 over a two-year period to cover a technical and consultancy budget for issues such as legal, economic, and transport assessments.
Stop Hinkley co-ordinator Jim Duffy criticised Sedgemoor’s request as ‘secretive, misjudged, creating a conflict of interest, while also flouting Royal Institute planning standards’.
Mr Duffy said: “It is 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.”
David Taylor, of Stop Hinkley, said: “The very idea that you would ask an applicant to fund a planning officer who will be dealing with your case presents just about the clearest example of conflict of interests.”
Hinkley Point falls within West Somerset, where the financially-crippled district council would be responsible for processing planning applications.
However, West Somerset has for several years only been able to manage its planning department by using the services of a Sedgemoor officer under a partnership agreement.
A spokesman for West Somerset Council said it had been unaware of Sedgemoor’s request for financial contributions from the two energy firms.
Mr Bamsey said: “These are multi-billion pound proposals with multi-million pound studies. Our resources are very limited. We do not see it as necessarily right that local tax payers should pay for this huge project.”
He said since writing the letter, the Government had agreed to meet the costs as it would ultimately decide any future planning applications for nuclear power stations rather than local councils.
A statement from EDF, which has recently bought British Energy, said: “EDF Energy and British Energy have not entered into any agreements in relation to these proposals.
“EDF Energy and British Energy believe the planning process to assess new build projects must be robust, fair and open and serve the interests of the local community.”

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