UK: Huhne Says Hinkley Point Application Made In Final Weightman Report Debate

Last Updated: 17 October 2011
Article by Angus Walker

This is entry number 284, published on 12 October 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog. If you would like to be notified when the blog is updated, with links sent by email, click here.

Today's entry reports on the publication of the final Weightman Report.

Weightman report

Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster on 11 March, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne commissioned Dr Mike Weightman, chief nuclear inspector, to establish any lessons to be learned for the UK nuclear programme. Dr Weightman issued an interim report in May, which was enough for Chris Huhne to decide to continue the nuclear programme, leading to the designation of the Nuclear Energy National Policy Statement (NPS) among five others in July. Greenpeace subsequently applied for a judicial review of the designation, arguing that it was premature in the light of Dr Weightman's interim report.

Yesterday, Dr Weightman issued his final report (or rather he stuck to his deadline and sent it to Chris Huhne on 30 September, who allowed it to be published yesterday upon Parliament's return).

The final report contains six new conclusions and 12 new recommendations to add to the 11 and 26 respectively in the interim report. The only 'planning' recommendation is for a review of the planning of residential development near new nuclear sites rather than the nuclear sites themselves.

If you are looking for Dr Weightman to say whether the UK should continue with its nuclear programme, or delay it, you will be disappointed, since he says: "As with the Interim Report, this Final Report does not address nuclear or energy policy issues as these are rightly within the province of the Government and Parliament and are outside the role and responsibilities of HM Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations."

Dr Weightman has undertaken to produce another report in a year's time to document progress in implementing his recommendations.

Hinkley Point

Although the publication of the Weightman Report was announced via a written statement from Chris Huhne yesterday, anti-nuclear Labour MP Paul Flynn secured an 'urgent question' about it in the Commons, so Chris Huhne came to the despatch box for a debate on it lasting nearly 40 minutes. The debate is recorded in Hansard here, starting at column 185. The written statement is also there, at column 18WS.

During the debate, Chris Huhne said that "I understand that, either today or yesterday, planning permission was requested for the first new reactor at Hinkley Point, which is due to be completed at the end of the decade." Forgiving him for misunderstanding that the Planning Act 2008 regime obviates the need for planning permission, he appears to be saying that EDF Energy have submitted their application to the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) for the new nuclear power station.

Tessa Munt, Conservative MP for Wells in Somerset, near the site of Hinkley Point, noted that there had been a tsunami in Somerset before, albeit in 1607. She said that she understood that the Hinkley Point application amounted to 95,000 pages with a further 50,000 pages of supporting documentation.

On the other hand, energy minister Charles Hendry participated in an adjournment debate on the Sellafield reprocessing plant, also yesterday (see column 307 in Hansard), and said "Investors know that EDF Energy will begin preliminary works at Hinkley Point soon and is preparing its planning application as we speak to put to the Infrastructure Planning Commission this autumn." 'We' were speaking at around 11pm, and I would not be surprised if EDF Energy were not indeed burning the near-midnight oil if they had not yet in fact made their application.

I have since had confirmation from the IPC that they have not yet received an application, but Chris Huhne's remarks must surely indicate that it is imminent. EDF say they are making it 'shortly'.

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