The executive of Sedgemoor Council recently decided, in a closed meeting, to donate a substantial plot of land for use of the nuclear energy centre at Bridgwater College. Stop Hinkley campaigners have argued to the Commission that this will deny future revenue to council tax payers, was decided with no public consultation and will benefit commercial companies which are supposedly financially mature.
They have also referred the donation of £1.9 million by the SWRDA, which appears to be an indirect public subsidy to the nuclear industry. This seems to contradict the government's promise that nuclear power can be developed without resort to the public purse.
The audit commission is an independent watchdog with a duty to ensure public resources are managed in the best interest of the tax-payer and to investigate contraventions. The Commission has already rated Sedgemoor Council as 'poor' in many areas of its work including planning decisions which are considered 'not transparent... and not promoted as without political or other influence' (1).
Jim Duffy, spokesman for Stop Hinkley said: "The replies from Sedgemoor Council are not convincing. Even if the land is tied to the college, the council could have pushed harder to get payment for the site, which will benefit the nuclear industry. Especially when £1.9 million is being pumped into the project by another arm of the taxpayer. Sedgemoor and the Regional Development Agency seem far too chummy with the nuclear industry which the government says should pay its own way."
"The Audit Commission has already criticised a lack of openess and a covert political agenda behind Sedgemoor's decision making, which they say are widespread concerns. Let's see how they judge the actions of the council and the Regional Development Agency over this crude example."
Stop Hinkley Coordinator
(1) "Many stakeholders consider that decision making...is not transparent and consistent... In view of these widespread concerns these practices, although not unlawful do not promote the planning processes as being open and without political or other influence." para 168, Audit Commission, Comprehensive Performance Assessment of Sedgemoor District Council, Sep 2004 (latest assessment of Sedgemoor Council)
(2) Letter from Stop Hinkley to Audit Commission, 13th June 2009:
Dear Sir / Madam
I am writing due to my concern about a particular recent incident related to Sedgemoor District Council in Somerset and a related process by the South West Regional Development Agency.
I have become aware that the council executive has decided to give away a piece of public land with substantial value to form part of a nuclear energy training centre, which will benefit privately owned nearby nuclear power stations. The decision was made in a special closed meeting of the executive, and not publicised generally nor discussed in the following executive meeting according to its minutes. This secrecy is of particular concern.
I believe the transaction is against the public interest, denying future revenue to Sedgemoor council tax payers. As the land is currently being used as a playing field, its change of use will deprive residents of this particular amenity. The process will be to the benefit of commercial nuclear operators who will gain from the training in nuclear skills by a department of Bridgwater College who will build and run the centre.
Sedgemoor Council argues that the land is 'tied' to the college by what is known as a 'ransom strip' but this seems an unsubstantial case for giving the land away at nil cost. There seems to have been no public consultation over the move.
Controversially the college has also received £1.9 million of regional funding towards the nuclear training centre, which we also think is highly questionable and which spurs the thought that Sedgemoor should at least have requested a portion of that cash for the very land it will be built on.
We would ask the Audit Commission to also investigate whether the South West Regional Development Agency was justified in applying this grant to the nuclear skills centre as it seems to be subsidising the nuclear industry. As the nuclear industry is considered to be of a 'mature' commercial nature it seems unfair to treat it to public subsidies in this way. French government owned EdF Energy has declared it will build its nuclear reactors without any public subsidy, which has been the approach set out by the UK government. This grant would appear to be an indirect subsidy to a foreign-owned commercial company.
I attach below links to
- a press release from our campaign group regarding the Sedgemoor land donation
- a related article consequently published in a local newspaper, the Bridgwater Mercury
- an article describing the £1.9 million grant to the nuclear skills centre from the SWRDA
Stop Hinkley Coordinator
Council's secret land donation to nuclear training centre
"Council defends land handover"
Bridgwater Mercury, Friday 29th May 2009
"College in line for £2 million grant", Bridgwater Times 11th June 2009