Allerdale Borough Council decision on joining a Community Partnership
Allerdale Borough Council’s Executive has agreed to take part in a Community Partnership which will look further into whether to site a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) for high-level nuclear waste in Allerdale.
The Executive members, voting at their meeting on 24 November 2021, did however express their desire to protect the coastal Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Therefore, the decision to accept the invitation to join a Community Partnership was “subject to the condition that all parts of the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) are removed from the Search Area with regard to the underground facility itself and any associated surface structures.”
Membership of a Community Partnership does not indicate that the Council or a local community is willing to host a GDF. The decision to host a GDF does not need to be taken until much later in the process, but it does permit a more detailed discussion around geological disposal to take place. Withdrawal from the process is also possible at any time.
The formation of a Community Partnership would signify the start of Community Investment Funding in the area. An initial sum of £1m per year will be made available, which could be used to fund projects, schemes and initiatives to drive the economic development of the area, improve the local environment, or the community’s wellbeing.
Community Investment Funding would rise to £2.5m per year if deep borehole investigations take place to assess geological suitability within the Search Area.
Speaking at the meeting Cllr Marion Fitzgerald, portfolio holder with responsibility for nuclear issues, said that a decision to join a Community Partnership “did not constitute consent for a GDF to be built in Allerdale. It would simply mean that the conversation can continue and that Radioactive Waste Management can carry out further, more detailed, investigations.
“The role of a Community Partnership...would be to progress more detailed discussions and, only if the community proves supportive, to take that process through to a test of public support. It is estimated to take ten to fifteen years to reach that point.
“It is likely that, during the lifetime of the Community Partnership, the size of the Search Area would shrink as more investigation and characterisation work is done.
“It is important to note that a Local Authority can withdraw from a Community Partnership at any time before the test of public support.”
The Leader of the Council, Cllr Mike Johnson, said: “For me personally, I keep coming back to the fact that the problem isn’t going away. We need to find a solution. I’m certainly not saying that the proposal for a GDF is the right solution and I’m certainly not saying that Allerdale is the right place for it.
“The last attempt to answer that question ended before any firm conclusions could be made – and that’s one reason why we are back here today. I’m prepared therefore, to keep the conversation going so that we can keep listening to both sides of the debate, understand the impacts in more detail and interrogate the growing body of evidence over the coming years.
“I don’t think we can finally settle this debate without doing this. Without seeing it through to its conclusion. If we don’t we will be sat here again in five year’s time listening to the same incomplete information. This process has to be definitive.
“The decision before us today is to assess whether or not we wish to be part of the conversation moving forward and join the process which is being led by Radioactive Waste Management. Given the importance of the nuclear sector to our local economy, I think we have to at least be part of the conversation whilst the comprehensive evidence base is assembled. Joining a Community Partnership should not be seen as an endorsement of a GDF in Allerdale.
“However, I think it is essential that we represent and include our communities in that discussion. Local leaders have to be part of that debate but it is vitally important they listen and include local residents and businesses – and do so with an open mind.”
Councillors had received a petition earlier in the meeting from Gilcrux Parish Council and presented by Cllr Patrick Gorrill raising concerns about the inclusion of the parish in the Search Area. The Executive assured Cllr Gorrill that these views were to be noted.