Returning from Summer Recess there is talk, apparently as much in expectation as in hope, that RWM will be freed to relaunch the GDF siting process this autumn.
BEIS are understandably non-commital about the prospect. Nobody in Whitehall can be certain of anything as we enter the potentially most chaotic six months in British Parliamentary history.
But the Brexit debate may actually help speed GDF policy decisions. If it does, and the siting process is relaunched, it then begs the question of what that launch looks like. And is RWM ready?
Only the coming weeks will tell whether the following is wishful thinking or wise insight. So let’s focus on what we know, and the options:
The hope is that with the National Policy Statement approved by Parliament, Ministers could take early decisions on the Working With Communities policy and permit RWM to at least start the long process of identifying a site.
However, if RWM is empowered to relaunch the siting process, don’t expect a flurry of initial activity. The GDF is about taking a 30-year look out into the future, at a time the country doesn’t currently have a clear 30-week outlook. It’s hard to imagine a community wanting to discuss its long-term future when the national short-term future is so uncertain.
There are also widespread concerns, as expressed in the GDFWatch stakeholder survey, that RWM is not yet ready to launch the process and engage with communities. These concerns are mostly about the scale of preparatory work envisaged under Section 7.4 of the 2014 White Paper, but which has not yet been done:
“During the period before formal discussions begin, the developer will undertake activities to explain the science and engineering of geological disposal and associated issues, within the context of Government policy, to the general public. The aim of these activities will be to share information and build a greater understanding in support of future, formal discussions with communities and, in the longer term, successful implementation.”
But if Ministers do take final policy decisions and authorise RWM to proceed with implementation this autumn, RWM’s lack of preparedness actually becomes less critical. There is a lot of foundation work to be done which could be steadily rolled-out during the months that we’re all waiting for Brexit to settle.
Can anyone imagine a community wanting to start a long, contentious process while the fabric of the nation is being shaken until a new future does become clear? So while the siting process may start this autumn, next summer is the earliest you might see any significant movement by one or more communities, after the Brexit dust and local election results are settled.
Given the continued cross-party support for the geological disposal programme, we can only hope Ministers do decide that allowing RWM to at least start the long slow siting process this autumn is in the nation’s best interests, regardless of whatever Brexit brings.