There’s no doubting the commitment in Whitehall to try and finalise GDF siting policy before Christmas. But if you ask about timing, you get the same silent stoic smiles revealing the lack of certainty across Whitehall about getting Ministerial decisions on anything at the moment.
As we await policy finalisation, discussion has turned to what a siting process relaunch might look like. There will be those quick to declare the process a failure if no communities come forward within the first few months. However, it is much more likely that it will be many months before we see any sign of active community participation.
We can be confident about this because those most likely to lead their communities into the siting process say so. Local Authority, Trades Union and Civil Society organisations share common observations and concerns that explain the likely longer-timescale scenario. The issues and hurdles they believe still need addressing include:
Awareness of the siting policy and the issues is barely known outside the existing “GDF community” of policymakers, regulators, nuclear sector, and informed observers. Nobody on the community-side feels confident about dropping their neighbours into this debate ‘cold’. There will need to be a lot of non-geographic awareness-raising — ie building understanding of the issues without making any particular community feel they are the object of RWM’s desire.
Delivery body/developer as ‘adversary’
There are worries that RWM’s role as delivery body, or developer, may prejudice public reaction when ‘first contact’ is made with a community. Traditional British ways of managing political discourse or decision-making tend to be adversarial, rather than about building consensus. With the best engagement and goodwill in the world, RWM’s ‘neutrality’ in the debate is going to be questioned. Like SKB in Sweden, RWM are going to have to earn communities’ respect through many years of deeds, not through early promises. Initial awareness-raising and trust-building therefore may be better managed by a visibly independent body — could this be a revamped role for CoRWM?
Partnership proposals not developed in partnership with prospective partners
A widespread feeling that how the Working With Communities policy is to be implemented has not been developed in partnership with those RWM seeks to partner. There is significant knowledge, and much existing activity, within the civil society sector around the development of community partnerships and involving communities in long-term planning and decision-making. On the community-side of the equation there is a sense that little if any of this expertise has been utilised by RWM. Thus there may be need for prolonged discussions with the sector to shape a workable siting partnership framework in which communities have confidence, before any individual community enters into the process.
Engagement funding prior to formal engagement
Currently there is no engagement funding until a community formally enters the siting process. But if a community is to enter the preliminary ‘formative engagement’ phase, it will require some form of advance discussion within that community. Given the current parlous state of local authority and community sector budgets, justifying the allocation of scarce resources to a speculative and highly-contentious proposal may forestall a community coming forward. Unless additional funding is made available.
Some of these issues may be addressed in the final policy, as they were all raised during the pubic consultation. RWM have certainly been investing in their community, engagement and communications function, so they may have solutions we’re not yet aware of.
Whatever happens, speed of movement in the siting process is not to be expected. Nor is it necessarily desirable. Leading anti-nuclear campaigner Prof Andy Blowers has cautioned against a hasty approach. It seems unlikely his fears will be realised. Government may have its policies and processes to move forward, but in a consent and partnership-based process it can only proceed at the pace of its prospective community partners.