Written evidence submitted by the Nuclear Legacy Advisor Forum [FPS 095]
HCLG Committee inquiry on the future of the planning system in England: Response to call for evidence
NuLeAF (the Nuclear Legacy Advisory Forum) is a Special Interest Group of the Local Government Association (LGA). NuLeAF is directly supported by over 100 local authorities and national park authorities across England and Wales. Our remit encompasses all aspects of the management of the UK’s nuclear waste legacy, including interim storage, treatment and disposal. Our primary objectives are:
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) spends around £3billion of largely public money every year on the clean-up of nuclear legacy sites. Local Planning Authorities are actively involved in this process. Through the planning system they are a regulator of NDA sites and associated infrastructure, and seek to deliver the best economic, social and environmental outcomes for their communities. Any reform of the planning system must support local government in this important work.
We are actively engaged with the UK and Welsh Governments and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) in the development of planning policy for radioactive waste. This includes recent collaboration in the development of Planning Guidance for the in-situ disposal of radioactive material.
Through our Radioactive Waste Planning Group (RWPG), we provide a forum for land use and waste planning officers to discuss the challenges facing local authorities around the management and disposal of radioactive waste. This response has been guided by their views.
Response to call for evidence
The White Paper proposes significant reform of the planning system in England, with a focus on simplification of the planning system to help stimulate housebuilding. We limit our comments to what we see as the potential implications of the proposed reforms for the decommissioning and clean-up of the UK’s nuclear legacy.
The Committee has invited comments on 8 issues. We have focussed our response on the first of these as this is the most relevant to our work.
Q1. Is the current planning system working as it should do? What changes might need to be made? Are the Government’s proposals the right approach?
We agree with the need to streamline plan making so that it is less cumbersome and more responsive to changes in circumstances. However, we have specific concerns around the issue of zoning and proposals to reform planning obligations. Nuclear legacy sites are generally large and complex developments with particular challenges and characteristics that do not fall neatly into the zoning system or the formulaic Infrastructure Levy system proposed.
Due to their scale, complexity and often remote locations, nuclear legacy sites and their effects may not respect zonal boundaries. Benefits and impacts are rarely limited to a line on a map. It will be vital that any new system enables impacts of one area to be considered in relation to proposals in an adjacent area. Nuclear legacy sites can have positive and negative ramifications across very wide areas. It is not clear how these considerations would be addressed in such a drastically simplified zoning system.
Planning Obligations are an important tool that has been used to deliver significant mitigation for communities that host nuclear sites. NuLeAF’s Briefing Paper 6 highlights the value that Section 106 (S106) agreements have provided within a nuclear context, including the Copeland Community Fund in West Cumbria. The Fund is providing millions of pounds for projects supporting work and skills, health and wellbeing, infrastructure, environmental enhancement and support for young people.
Planning for the Future proposes replacing S106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy with a new value based flat rate Infrastructure Levy. It is not clear from the document how such a new Levy could operate in relation to nuclear legacy sites or new infrastructure required for decommissioning and waste management. Nuclear decommissioning projects have one off and locally specific effects that will never be able to be covered in a flat fee scheme.
The new regime is reliant on uplift in land values and contributions are paid at end of process and it is difficult to see how the Infrastructure Levy would operate in a nuclear context. For example:
Section 106 Agreements are a vital part of impact mitigation for nuclear projects. Any replacement must enable necessary mitigation to be provided to address site specific impacts for large complex projects and NSIPs, across the full range of relevant issues from transport to off-site biodiversity mitigation, education, training and skills provision, local employment and local supply chain targets.