Andy Blowers, Chair of BANNG, asks if recent council decisions will prove a decisive turning point in the BANNG column for Regional Life, September 2020
Councils’ initial response
Bradwell B has been transformed from being, for most people, a subliminal, vague and distant idea to becoming a palpable, imminent, if still virtual reality. Suddenly the real possibility of a massive radioactive machine with its accompanying cooling towers, turbines and radioactive waste stores pumping pollution into the air and contaminating the relatively pristine waters of the Blackwater estuary, has alarmed local communities and rallied support for protest groups.
Significantly, it has ignited a local political response. Over the decade since Bradwell was designated, local councils, with notable exceptions such as West Mersea Town, have been relatively passive about the issue. Colchester Borough Council initially produced a robust report rejecting the selection of the Bradwell site in 2011, then, apart from occasional anti-Bradwell pronouncements, fell almost silent until the proposals of the developer, BRB, were released for consultation this March. Thereupon it produced a quite extraordinarily pusillanimous and ingratiating response, agreeing that ‘a positive legacy is essential and hopes that these initial comments are useful’. This clearly did not reflect the Council’s anti-Bradwell stance.
Maldon District Council’s response was even more welcoming, reflecting the Council’s long-held policy of support for nuclear power in principle. Its overall tone was very positive, recognising the jobs that would be created and commending ‘the clear opportunities for the project to be a world class example of low carbon development that is transformational in its approach to development and transport’.
Councils make a U-turn
Within weeks, during high summer, as discontent grew, both councils executed abrupt U-turns. Colchester’s response was called in and withdrawn. At a Special Meeting of the Council it was unequivocally and with all party support resolved that ‘this Council should make clear its position on new nuclear at Bradwell and the impact of new nuclear upon the borough of Colchester. This Council objects to new nuclear at Bradwell due to the environmental impacts and prefers a focus on renewable energy alternatives’.
By contrast, Maldon District Council had long been supportive of Bradwell B and had enjoyed a close relationship with BRB. Its volte face was all the more surprising and unexpected. In 2017 the Council had granted Planning Permission for BRB to undertake land investigations to test the suitability of the Bradwell site for a giant nuclear power station complex. In February of this year BRB made an application for further land investigations comprising 250 boreholes and a substantial test pit.
During the intervening period two significant events occurred which precipitated Maldon’s change of position. One was the alteration in the composition of the Council with the new membership less in thrall to the Leadership and Officers’ concern to facilitate Bradwell B. The other was BRB’s plans and public consultation which, though conducted largely during the lockdown, unleashed furious opposition especially on the Dengie peninsula.
Local Councillors, reflecting the public uproar, rejected Officers’ advice and overwhelmingly turned down the Planning Application. A second meeting to reconsider had to be abandoned in the face of disruption by members who felt they were being leaned on by the Leadership and Officers, who invoked confidential legal advice as a basis for reconsideration. Nevertheless, the legal advice was deployed in a third meeting of the Council’s Planning Committee when the members again rejected permission for the land investigations by a vote of 14 to 1 with 3 abstentions.
So far, so good. Maldon has made its position on Bradwell B clear but only indirectly by refusing land investigations. The matter will likely go to appeal and BRB may get its way. And, Maldon’s support for nuclear remains enshrined in Council policy and this needs to be reversed.
A political catastrophe for Bradwell B
Nevertheless, for BRB the events at Colchester and Maldon Councils are a political catastrophe. Attempts to woo the population with promises of thousands of jobs have been rejected. BRB’s illusory idea of ‘the Bradwell comunity’, sharing with its nuclear benefactors a common purpose and partnership, has turned to ashes in the mouth. From now on CGN knows it faces a largely hostile population, ungrateful and determined to see its downfall. BANNG takes heart that after more than a decade of campaigning a possible victory on the Blackwater is coming in sight.
And BRB faces many other hurdles. It has to convince the regulators that its reactors are safe and fit for purpose, it has to seek Justification for radioactive releases from the power station, it must overcome resentment at growing Chinese influence and control over UK infrastructure and it must commit the massive resources needed to build such a leviathan. And, it has to get permission to develop.
It is still possible that a Chinese nuclear power station will one day loom over the Blackwater and Dengie. But the actions of protest groups and local councils have made the task that much harder and it may well be that the summer of 2020 turns out to be a decisive turning point in the saga of Bradwell B.