MP Dan Poulter voices concern over Sizewell C consent bid during virus crisis

A CGI of how Sizewell C could look Picture: EDF ENERGY

A CGI of how Sizewell C could look Picture: EDF ENERGY - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk MP has joined growing concern that EDF Energy will submit its planning application for the Sizewell C nuclear power station during the coronavirus crisis.

MP Dr Dan Poulter is concerned over proposals to submit plans for Sizewell C during the virus crisis

MP Dr Dan Poulter is concerned over proposals to submit plans for Sizewell C during the virus crisis as public consultation could be inhibited Picture: Office of DR DAN POULTER - Credit: Archant

Already 54 town and parish councils, along with campaign groups, have voiced their frustration at the possibility – amid concerns that it would be “intolerable and unfair” to add extra anxiety to people at this time.

Now Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP, Dr Dan Poulter has written to Government ministers saying the Covid-19 restrictions would inhibit full and proper consideration of the application and it would “not be appriopriate” yet.

EDF has already delayed its submission of a Development Consent Order (DCO) for the £14billion twin reactor for a month but there are worries it could submit the documents in May.

Dr Poulter has been contacted by a large number of residents who have a number of concerns in regards to the DCO. He is concerned there would be pressure on council officers dealing with Covid-19 to respond to issues and questions raised by the submission and opportunities for public consultation curtailed as public meetings are not permitted.

Read more: Sizewell C application delayed ‘for a few weeks’ by virus

Dr Poulter said “Whilst I welcome EDF’s decision on March 26 to defer submitting its application for development consent, I do share the concerns of residents and a number of councillors in my constituency and have reservations about the suggestion that this deferment may only last for a few weeks. Due to the significant local and national impacts of an application of this scale, it is imperative that sufficient time and resource is made available to consider this application fully.

“It is essential that due process is followed and that any application is fully open and transparent; this means that communities and all relevant stakeholders can have their say and their views should be heard as part of a genuine and meaningful consultation.

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“I have no doubt that the current COVID-19 restrictions would inhibit full and proper consideration of the application and this is why I have called upon Government Ministers to insist upon due diligence being shown in respect of this important application.”

What the campaigners say:

In a joint statement, Stephen Brett, chairman of Theberton and Eastbridge Parish Council, and Tim Beach, chairman of Snape Parish Council, who led the letter from town and parish councils, said: “EDF’s reply to 54 town and parish councils fails to adequately address the constraints that we, the district council and county council are under, and our need to focus on maintaining core services.

“It also completely ignores the current concerns of the tens of thousands of ordinary people living in those 54 towns and parishes; their heightened anxiety, sickness or bereavement; loss of employment and money worries; or working on the frontline for the NHS or other essential services.

“For many people, Sizewell C is in itself a source of grave anxiety, so to have to deal with EDF’s application along with everything else at this time is intolerable and unfair.

“We call on EDF again to reconsider.”

Paul Collins, of Stop Sizewell C, said “If EDF’s application is submitted in the near future, then we are particularly concerned about the ability of the older and more vulnerable members of our society to fully and effectively engage in the process.

“Time is not the only issue: many of those who attend our public meetings do not use the internet or would struggle without assistance to access materials effectively. If libraries remain closed and meetings are prohibited, extending the pre-examination period to 12 weeks is unlikely to help such members of our society, hence our call for a delay until coronavirus restrictions are lifted. We remain very concerned about the fairness of this process.”

What the district and county council says:

Suffolk County Council and East Suffolk Council have also said there is concern that any period of consultation that begins during the current Covid-19 pandemic will not give the community the fullest opportunity possible to engage.

In a joint statement, leader of East Suffolk, Steve Gallant, and leader of the county council, Matthew Hicks said: “Given the current Government guidance on social distancing, social isolation and public gatherings, we ask EDF Energy to delay the Section 56 consultation until such time as all parties are satisfied that appropriate public engagement can take place.

“Many of our staff are currently redeployed to support their local communities and the risk of sickness and self-isolation from the virus remains high. We are concerned that even in a few weeks’ time, it may still be incredibly challenging to consider entering a period of consultation on such an important subject.

“We feel that everyone who is interested in this development should be given the best possible opportunity to have their say. Before EDF Energy commences any public engagement, we would like them to commit to speaking to both authorities and the Government’s Planning Inspectorate so we can work with EDF Energy to see if a suitable solution can be found that works for all our communities.”

EDF Energy’s views:

EDF has already delayed submission by a month and says little would happen in the 28 days after its submission while the Planning Inspectorate registers the DCO.

EDF will also allow more time for people to register as participants for the public examination phase of the DCO process. This will help to ensure local communities have enough time to review the application and participate.

The company is currently liaising with the Planning Inspectorate to discuss how normal arrangements can be flexed so that communities are not disadvantaged by the current difficult circumstances.

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF’s managing director of nuclear development, said: ‘‘We are ready to submit the application but we recognise that many people in Suffolk, including the local authorities, are adjusting to new circumstances created by the coronavirus crisis.

“We will defer the submission for a few weeks and once submitted we will extend the period for registration to make it easier for people to participate. During more than eight years of consultation we have worked hard to be transparent and to allow everyone who has an interest in the project to have their say. We will continue to do so in these difficult times.”

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