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UPDATE: Analysis of Responses to RWM Consultation

i Apr 14th No Comments by

Weighting of evaluation criteria to allow more effective comparison between potential sites, and taking account of wider statutory obligations, are amongst the common key themes from a wide range of stakeholders’ responses to RWM’s Site Evaluation public consultation.

Now closed, it is thought that the two parallel public consultations in England and in Wales have attracted about 90-100 responses.  Some of those responses are published below, with permission of their authors.  If you would like to add your response submission to our list, please contact us at editorial@gdfwatch.org.uk

Context

It is important to place a ‘health warning’ on the following analysis of responses to the consultation, because:

  • the published responses are not necessarily representative of the total range of responses and opinion submitted to RWM;
  • there are a diversity of opinions and specific issues raised in the published responses — this analysis is not a summary of all opinion, but focuses on key common themes from across the stakeholder spectrum;
  • a final/definitive analysis is only possible once RWM publish all the responses received, when they formally respond to the consultation later in the summer.

Key issues raised

Although we have only read about 10-15% of responses submitted, there are certain key issues or themes which appear across the stakeholder spectrum, from industry and local authorities to environmentalists and local activist groups.  They also reflect issues raised at each of the regional stakeholder workshops which GDFWatch attended.   These include:

  • general awareness of the difficulty of using quantitative comparators, but a widespread sentiment that RWM need to find some way of ranking/weighting criteria so that a robust comparison can be made effectively between different sites under evaluation, especially when they might be at different stages of development;
  • the need for RWM to take account of wider statutory obligations, on themselves and other third parties, eg the legal obligations placed on all public bodies under the Environment Act 1995 and the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000;
  • the omission of any reference to the Future Generations Act (FGA) in the Welsh consultation document and the consequent statutory obligations placed upon RWM when operating in Wales;
  • “community” site evaluation criteria should not just be ‘socioeconomic’, but look at wider social and environmental impacts, including governance of the siting process and how RWM will actually collaborate and work with communities;
  • geology should be a more prominent criteria, particularly hydrogeology, amid ongoing public concern about contamination of underground water sources;
  • the need to keep site evaluation criteria under review, for example by ensuring the criteria are aligned with the National Policy Statement (in England) and Technical Advisory Note (in Wales) when these are eventually published, and to consult again if necessary;
  • whether ethics and intergenerational equity/justice should be included amongst the site evaluation criteria;
  • “security”, on site and during transport of waste, is also frequently raised as a criteria which should be given more prominence.

General concerns

In addition to these specific key issues, the responses also express more general concerns, primarily about ‘public trust’ — in the GDF siting and evaluation processes, and in RWM itself.  These general expressions of concern include:

  • if communities are going to have any confidence, they must have trust in the siting process — establishing such trust cannot be reduced to or built upon a simplistic community role in ‘oversight and scrutiny’;
  • that geology will not be a key factor, and that a “less safe” GDF might be built in unsuitable geology (relying on engineered barriers) simply because the host community is willing;
  • the evaluation criteria are ‘mechanistic’, and do not reflect or adequately account for the overall acceptability of the project to a local community;
  • need for better guidance for communities on how the criteria will be assessed inter alia, and the provision of an ‘indicative’ or ‘example’ analysis that helps communities more easily understand how the comparative evaluations will be conducted and presented;
  • how overlaps between criteria will be accounted for when assessing sites.

From a narrow administrative perspective it is perhaps true that many of the comments made do not directly address the consultation questions.  However, the wider concerns expressed underline continuing anxiety about how the unique, new and untested complex siting process will be implemented.  Before asking the public about technical site evaluation criteria, there is a body of work to be conducted to explain and build confidence in the siting process.  There is widespread cynicism that communities will have the final say, or can walk away at any time without obligation.  Previous negative community experiences of the planning process for major infrastructure projects, and general exasperation with our political and democratic decision-making processes, mean that RWM will probably have to address these fundamental concerns before any community is ready to discuss technical details, like site evaluation criteria.

Responses published

Many organisations only responded to the England consultation, but those that have submitted a response to the Wales consultation have generally made both responses available on their website (and are easily visible when you click on the hyperlink below.

Allerdale Borough Council

Barlow Geosafety

Campaign for National Parks

Cumbria Trust

Dr David Lowry — member of Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates (NWAA) & Nuclear Transparency Watch

Friends of the Earth — West Cumbria & North Lakes branch

Friends of the Lake District

Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA)

Nuclear Industry Association (NIA)

Nuclear Legacy Advisory Forum (NuLeAF) — special interest body of the Local Government Association (LGA)

Prospect — the Trades Union

To see GDFWatch’s responses to the two consultations, please scroll down.

___________

A Public consultation related to the search for a suitable site for a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) in England

Response Form

Question 1:
Are there any other sources of high level Requirements other than Siting Process, National Policy Statement and Legal Requirements identified that you think should be reflected in the Site Evaluation and why? 
See Q4 below
Question 2:
Do you agree with the Siting Factors we have identified? Are there any other Siting Factors that should be included and why?
See Q4 below
Question 3:
Do you agree with the Evaluation Considerations we have identified? Are there any other Evaluation Considerations that should be included and why?
See Q4 below
Question 4:
Is there anything else that you think we should consider in our site evaluations and why?
We have never been entirely sure why this formal public consultation is being held.  Judging by discussions with other attendees at the regional workshops, this is a widely held view.  There is nothing ‘new’ in the consultation document.  It simply contextualises existing requirements, which cannot be changed.

 

 

However, if it’s an early indication of a more inclusive approach by RWM to taking wider civil society opinion with it, then it is to be welcomed.  And by bringing together all the existing legal, regulatory, environmental, planning and other requirements RWM is obliged to fulfil during the GDF siting process, the document also reads more like a ‘roadmap’ for communities.  It helps:

  • begin to explain broad timelines and how the different siting, planning and regulatory processes interweave with each other, and
  • provides the bare bones of a potential work programme for engaged communities, by focusing on six broad factors — Safety, Community, Environment, Engineering feasibility, Transport, and Cost.

At this stage, the six headline siting factors appear sufficiently broad and flexible to encompass a wide range of more detailed and location-specific issues. But in providing a basis which helps give shape and structure to community discussions, the evaluation consideration criteria will need to be continually updated.  The 31 March public consultation deadline therefore seems a little arbitrary, since these issues will continue to evolve, not least to include issues of particular relevance to a specific community.  We hope that, where possible, RWM will continue to keep these issues open as the siting process progresses, rather than a draw a line when this public consultation ends.

We do have some specific additional observations:

Meaningful consultation

Those attending the workshops appeared to represent stakeholder sector and organisations that are already well-versed and engaged in the GDF programme.  While their expertise and knowledge is undoubtedly of value to RWM in helping refine the site evaluation criteria, RWM cannot reasonably claim that they have satisfactorily reached out to and engaged with those whose consent is required to initiate and sustain a local discussion – ie, community and civil society organisations.

If the site evaluation criteria are to have any credibility or usefulness, they need to be understood and accepted at least by those representing the community and civil society sector.  To press ahead with only the input of ‘technical’ stakeholders creates risks for RWM in terms of securing broader public acceptance to the site evaluation criteria.

This concern was aired at the start of the consultation process, and has sadly been realised:

“A more basic concern is that civil society and community organisations will not have the capacity to make meaningful responses to the consultation by the end of March… experience from regional workshops for the National Geological Screening, National Policy Statement and Working With Communities consultations suggest that it is the same organisations which tend to attend these events.  While useful for those attending, the workshops are not always the most effective means of reaching out beyond historical core-engaged stakeholders.” [GDFWatch, 15/01/19]

The post-consultation revised site evaluation criteria should be subjected to further socialisation with and feedback from those representing the wider and community and civil society sectors.

Measurability/Objective Comparative Analysis

RWM state that a key purpose of the evaluation criteria is to support comparative assessment of different sites.  But there is little in the document to indicate how ‘objective’ comparative assessments are to be made.  There are clearly difficulties and constraints in relying purely on quantitative assessment methodologies, but there seems too little emphasis in the current proposals on how the different criteria might be objectively compared or weighted across different sites under investigation.  Nor does the consultation address the issue of comparing sites which are at different stages of investigation.

Being able to compare sites in a transparent and understandable way will be essential to the wider task of building communities’ confidence in the fairness and legitimacy of the siting process.  More importantly, RWM will need robust objective indicators in order to defend and justify their actions, to Parliament and the National Audit Office, to the Courts in the event of a Judicial Review, as well as to the affected communities.

There seems to be a widely-held view that RWM will almost certainly be challenged in Court at some point in the next 30 years, most likely by a community which RWM decides should no longer remain within the siting process.  The basis on which any such decision is made by RWM therefore needs to be built on a robust comparative evaluation.

The complexity of the project, the varied characteristics of each community, and availability of common data sources across all participating communities, make defining specific quantifiable comparative data a difficult task.  However, there are examples and precedents (eg environmental assessments) in which robust comparative analyses can be made and which can withstand public, regulatory and legal scrutiny.  While recognising the difficulty for RWM in defining and developing methodologies for objective comparative assessment, this is an issue on which further work is clearly required.

Local Authority/Statutory Obligations

Local Authorities have been allotted a specific role within the siting process and Community Partnership framework.  This reflects their responsibility to deliver statutory obligations, and the potential impact (positive or negative) of a GDF and related investments on their capacity and capability to meet those obligations.  The consultation document lists at length the legal and regulatory obligations RWM will need to meet, but is mute on how the siting process may need to be observant of the impact of RWM’s activities on the statutory obligations of affected local authorities (or any other third parties).

In different circumstances and scenarios, the effect of a GDF could drive efficiencies, or drive costs up, in the delivery of public and social services by the local authority.  This is both a ‘community’ and a ‘cost’ issue, of great significance to local taxpayers and public service users.

The key point here, is that the site evaluation criteria currently focus on RWM’s legal and regulatory obligations, and we believe further thought should be given to including an assessment of the impact of RWM’s activities on the statutory obligations of other parties within the affected communities.

National Policy Statement (NPS)

As we understand, the final NPS will, by necessity, be ‘generic’ – as there is no specific site to which a GDF NPS can currently be applied.  It will set out the key issues to be addressed and included within any site-specific planning application.  Such a flexible approach is required to be able to account for the potentially varied environmental impact and obligations in different parts of the country.  In our view, this underlines the need for the site evaluation criteria to be kept under review, and for the adoption by RWM in their site comparison analyses of similar measures to those used currently when assessing environmental impacts.

Language/Tone

RWM have clearly gone some way to making the text of the document much more accessible to lay and non-technical audiences.  But there are still improvements that can be made, and there is value in engaging the community/civil society sector to help continually improve the use of plain English (or Welsh).

The most obvious example of this is the ‘Cost’ evaluation criteria.  “Cost” is a laden term.  If the public believe that cost is a primary determinant, they will fear that the programme will be ‘cutting corners’ and not placing safety as a key determinant.

‘Value for money’ is a suggested alternative.  It is true that costs to the taxpayer will be one of the deciding issues.  However, it does not flow from that that the cheapest option will automatically be the preferred option.  There are other key influencing criteria to weigh alongside cost.  Given the scale of impact a GDF will have on a regional economy and infrastructure over a long period, it is not inconceivable that a Secretary of State in 30-50 years time evaluates two very similar potential sites, and chooses the site which maximises the impact of and return on the taxpayers investment. That may not be the lowest cost option, but one which realises optimal benefits for that region of the UK. 

Given that a key audience for these criteria are local communities, it is recommended that RWM conduct further analysis of the use of language with those who represent the community/civil society sector.  For example, would lay people refer to “Engineering Feasibility”, or would the more simple “Construction” be more meaningful and accessible to them?

Geology

During the workshops there were repeated comments that there was too little specific mention of ‘geology’.  We would agree with RWM that this issue should be woven through all the criteria, and not be a standalone criteria in its own right.  We welcome RWM’s commitment given at several workshops that they will be more explicit about the role of geology when revising the text of the document after the consultation.

A Public consultation related to the search for a suitable site for a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) in Wales

Question 1:
Are there any other sources of high level Requirements other than Siting Process, National Policy Statement and Legal Requirements identified that you think should be reflected in the Site Evaluation and why?

The consultation document makes no mention of the Future Generations Act (FGA) despite this being a foundation piece of legislation which all public sector organisations must comply with when developing or implementing Welsh Government policy.

The FGA’s 7 well-being goals, and the Act’s requirements that public bodies in Wales think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, all appear very relevant to site evaluation, and to wider geological disposal policy. Although RWM is not a ‘listed’ organisation under the Act, Welsh Ministers, local authorities and Natural Resources Wales are covered by legislation. Since, in Wales, RWM is in effect implementing Welsh (not UK) Government policy, we understand failure to incorporate the FGA goals could invalidate all or part of RWM’s approach to the siting process in Wales.

Not only is radioactive waste management policy a devolved issue, but land use planning, environmental permitting, and local authority, socioeconomic and communities policies are also devolved issues. The legal, regulatory, policy and institutional framework in Wales is no longer a replica of England. There is a distinctly different social, political and cultural environment in Wales. None of this is adequately reflected in the consultation document for Wales.

Although the FGA is not in operation in England, its sustainability principles, 7 well-being goals and approach to collaborative working provide a positive framework for the GDF siting process. Embracing the Act on a pan-UK basis might not only enhance implementation of the siting process, but would help provide a consistent basis for comparing Welsh and English communities.

Question 2:
Do you agree with the Siting Factors we have identified? Are there any other Siting Factors that should be included and why?

See Q4 below

Question 3:
Do you agree with the Evaluation Considerations we have identified? Are there any other Evaluation Considerations that should be included and why?

See Q4 below

Question 4:
Is there anything else that you think we should consider in our site evaluations and why?

We have never been entirely sure why this formal public consultation is being held. Judging by discussions with other attendees at the regional workshops, this is a widely held view. There is nothing ‘new’ in the consultation document. It simply contextualises existing requirements, which cannot be changed.

However, if it’s an early indication of a more inclusive approach by RWM to taking wider civil society opinion with it, then it is to be welcomed. And by bringing together all the existing legal, regulatory, environmental, planning and other requirements RWM is obliged to fulfil during the GDF siting process, the document also reads more like a ‘roadmap’ for communities. It helps:

• begin to explain broad timelines and how the different siting, planning and regulatory processes interweave with each other, and
• provides the bare bones of a potential work programme for engaged communities, by focusing on six broad factors — Safety, Community, Environment, Engineering feasibility, Transport, and Cost.

At this stage, the six headline siting factors appear sufficiently broad and flexible to encompass a wide range of more detailed and location-specific issues. But in providing a basis which helps give shape and structure to community discussions, the evaluation consideration criteria will need to be continually updated. The 31 March public consultation deadline therefore seems a little arbitrary, since these issues will continue to evolve, not least to include issues of particular relevance to a specific community. We hope that, where possible, RWM will continue to keep these issues open as the siting process progresses, rather than a draw a line when this public consultation ends.

We do have some specific additional observations:

Meaningful consultation

Those attending the workshops appeared to represent stakeholder sector and organisations that are already well-versed and engaged in the GDF programme. While their expertise and knowledge is undoubtedly of value to RWM in helping refine the site evaluation criteria, RWM cannot reasonably claim that they have satisfactorily reached out to and engaged with those whose consent is required to initiate and sustain a local discussion – ie, community and civil society organisations.

If the site evaluation criteria are to have any credibility or usefulness, they need to be understood and accepted at least by those representing the community and civil society sector. To press ahead with only the input of ‘technical’ stakeholders creates risks for RWM in terms of securing broader public acceptance to the site evaluation criteria.

This concern was aired at the start of the consultation process, and has sadly been realised:

“A more basic concern is that civil society and community organisations will not have the capacity to make meaningful responses to the consultation by the end of March… experience from regional workshops for the National Geological Screening, National Policy Statement and Working With Communities consultations suggest that it is the same organisations which tend to attend these events. While useful for those attending, the workshops are not always the most effective means of reaching out beyond historical core-engaged stakeholders.” [GDFWatch, 15/01/19]

The post-consultation revised site evaluation criteria should be subjected to further socialisation with and feedback from those representing the wider and community and civil society sectors.

Measurability/Objective Comparative Analysis

RWM state that a key purpose of the evaluation criteria is to support comparative assessment of different sites. But there is little in the document to indicate how ‘objective’ comparative assessments are to be made. There are clearly difficulties and constraints in relying purely on quantitative assessment methodologies, but there seems too little emphasis in the current proposals on how the different criteria might be objectively compared or weighted across different sites under investigation. Nor does the consultation address the issue of comparing sites which are at different stages of investigation.

Being able to compare sites in a transparent and understandable way will be essential to the wider task of building communities’ confidence in the fairness and legitimacy of the siting process. More importantly, RWM will need robust objective indicators in order to defend and justify their actions, to Parliament and the National Audit Office, to the Courts in the event of a Judicial Review, as well as to the affected communities.

There seems to be a widely-held view that RWM will almost certainly be challenged in Court at some point in the next 30 years, most likely by a community which RWM decides should no longer remain within the siting process. The basis on which any such decision is made by RWM therefore needs to be built on a robust comparative evaluation.

The complexity of the project, the varied characteristics of each community, and availability of common data sources across all participating communities, make defining specific quantifiable comparative data a difficult task. However, there are examples and precedents (eg environmental assessments) in which robust comparative analyses can be made and which can withstand public, regulatory and legal scrutiny. While recognising the difficulty for RWM in defining and developing methodologies for objective comparative assessment, this is an issue on which further work is clearly required.

Local Authority/Statutory Obligations

Local Authorities have been allotted a specific role within the siting process and Community Partnership framework. This reflects their responsibility to deliver statutory obligations, and the potential impact (positive or negative) of a GDF and related investments on their capacity and capability to meet those obligations. The consultation document lists at length the legal and regulatory obligations RWM will need to meet, but is mute on how the siting process may need to be observant of the impact of RWM’s activities on the statutory obligations of affected local authorities (or any other third parties).

In different circumstances and scenarios, the effect of a GDF could drive efficiencies, or drive costs up, in the delivery of public and social services by the local authority. This is both a ‘community’ and a ‘cost’ issue, of great significance to local taxpayers and public service users.

The key point here, is that the site evaluation criteria currently focus on RWM’s legal and regulatory obligations, and we believe further thought should be given to including an assessment of the impact of RWM’s activities on the statutory obligations of other parties within the affected communities.

National Policy Statement (NPS)

As we understand, the final NPS will, by necessity, be ‘generic’ – as there is no specific site to which a GDF NPS can currently be applied. It will set out the key issues to be addressed and included within any site-specific planning application. Such a flexible approach is required to be able to account for the potentially varied environmental impact and obligations in different parts of the country. In our view, this underlines the need for the site evaluation criteria to be kept under review, and for the adoption by RWM in their site comparison analyses of similar measures to those used currently when assessing environmental impacts.

Language/Tone

RWM have clearly gone some way to making the text of the document much more accessible to lay and non-technical audiences. But there are still improvements that can be made, and there is value in engaging the community/civil society sector to help continually improve the use of plain English (or Welsh).

The most obvious example of this is the ‘Cost’ evaluation criteria. “Cost” is a laden term. If the public believe that cost is a primary determinant, they will fear that the programme will be ‘cutting corners’ and not placing safety as a key determinant.

‘Value for money’ is a suggested alternative. It is true that costs to the taxpayer will be one of the deciding issues. However, it does not flow from that that the cheapest option will automatically be the preferred option. There are other key influencing criteria to weigh alongside cost. Given the scale of impact a GDF will have on a regional economy and infrastructure over a long period, it is not inconceivable that a Secretary of State in 30-50 years time evaluates two very similar potential sites, and chooses the site which maximises the impact of and return on the taxpayers investment. That may not be the lowest cost option, but one which realises optimal benefits for that region of the UK.

Given that a key audience for these criteria are local communities, it is recommended that RWM conduct further analysis of the use of language with those who represent the community/civil society sector. For example, would lay people refer to “Engineering Feasibility”, or would the more simple “Construction” be more meaningful and accessible to them?

Geology

During the workshops there were repeated comments that there was too little specific mention of ‘geology’. We would agree with RWM that this issue should be woven through all the criteria, and not be a standalone criteria in its own right. We welcome RWM’s commitment given at several workshops that they will be more explicit about the role of geology when revising the text of the document after the consultation.

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