Ministers have been told to drop their Local Authority ‘veto’ idea, and to focus on doing more to build community confidence and trust.
That is the headline conclusion from a review of responses to the Working With Communities (WWC) consultation that have already been published. Although not a statistically representative sample of the responses submitted, the opinions come from all corners of society.
All the expert and public evidence received during the policy development phase said that giving any tier of local government a ‘veto’ over the process would undermine the policy and any concept of ‘community consent’. Despite that near unanimous opinion, Ministers still decided to include proposals that would give local authorities the power to block the will of the community.
There has been a consistent and broad-based push back to those proposals in the published consultation responses. GDFWatch believes a veto power would make a mockery of the Government’s own consent-based policy and mean the siting process would be DOA. Community and place-based organisations, while fully recognising the integral role of local authorities, were equally critical of the proposal, eg:
Local authorities themselves seem to disagree over whether they need a veto power. The Local Government Association’s specialised grouping, the Nuclear Legacy Advisory Forum (NuLeAF), representing 130+ local authorities says:
“… local authorities have a range of views as to whether there should be an absolute local authority veto … Many accepted the position set out in the 2014 White Paper; others believe that a clear veto is required but take differing views as to whether that should apply to one or both tiers of local government in two tier areas.”
Where they have answered individually, local authorities have voiced their concerns about having this veto power. For example, Folkestone & Hythe District Council say: “This effective right of veto will limit the chances of the GDF programme being implemented and it is recommended that the 2014 White Paper position be adhered to.”
And those within the nuclear sector who’ve had previous experience of failed siting processes also condemned the proposals. Barlow Geosafety, a consultancy established by one of Europe’s leading geological disposal experts, said: “If we are to avoid repeating history and replaying the unsuccessful experience from MRWS, then any approach that provides a veto, or effective veto, should be forthrightly rejected.”
Even critics of the GDF siting process, like the Cumbria Trust, have their concerns: “If a Community Agreement was structured in such a way that it allows a local authority to carry a motion irrespective of the views of the other members of the Community Partnership, then the Community Partnership becomes an irrelevance. It is not a genuine partnership if one member can overrule the others.”
Building Community Confidence
Perhaps the most recurring theme across responses is the concern for more detail to be provided. There is broad support for the principles of the policy, but uncertainty about how these are to be implemented. This includes residual concerns about the extent of RWM’s powers and responsibilities and how these might impact on its ability to build trust with communities.
Trades Unions, community organisations, industry and local authorities all point to the difficulties in, but necessity of, building confidence amongst communities. To address this issue their proposed solutions encompass:
Although the majority of stakeholder sectors support the broad principles of the proposed consent-based approach, not everyone is enamoured. The Cumbria Trust and the association of Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) articulate wider concerns that this process is not truly transparent, that communities can become trapped within the process against their will, and question whether geological disposal is actually the best way to manage legacy wastes.
Their concerns about the effectiveness of the proposed community consent-based approach are more widely shared. Trades Unions, local authorities and national representative bodies of community sector organisations are concerned about communities being able to engage effectively, exercise democratic control over the process, and be free to walk away at any time. However, unlike the Cumbria Trust or NFLA, they propose solutions on how to ensure these legitimate community concerns are addressed.
There are many more issues and ideas raised in each of the publicly-available responses. These responses only represent a small proportion of all the consultation responses submitted, so it will be some time before we get a full read out from BEIS, and then what conclusions the Government has come to based on all the responses they have received.
Given the passion and commitment that the published responses reveal, it will be interesting to see if BEIS more actively engage with respondents before final policy decisions are made. The responses are full of ideas on how the process can be improved during the pre-launch and preparatory phases. Since the core of the policy is based on collaboration and partnership with empowered communities, we hope the Government will lead by example and retain an open policy-making approach, working with communities and their representative bodies to co-design the final policy and implementation issues.
This is a selection of those responses we’ve been informed have been made public — please feel free to send us additional links to other published consultation responses, to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you wish to read individual responses that are already in the public domain, please click on the relevant link:
Working With Communities (response to England & NI consultation)
National Policy Statement
Welsh Government consultation on equivalent to Working With Communities
These responses only reflect a small proportion of all those submitted. They should not be taken as a representative sample, but they do articulate opinion from different societal perspectives. They are provided to help stimulate debate and discussion.