A deal between several local councils and a nuclear energy firm to process plans for two new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point, near Burnham-On-Sea, has this week led to fears that it will by-pass the democratic process.

Nuclear campaigners have said there is a “clear conflict of interest” over energy giant EDF’s offer to pay Sedgemoor District Council for its planning costs for the development of two reactors at Hinkley Point.

EDF Energy has said that it will pay a fee to the councils for their part in the planning process, but campaigners from the Stop Hinkley group are concerned that public trust could be lost in the deal.

Jim Duffy, Co-ordinator of the pressure group, told Burnham-On-Sea.com: “The Government has apparently refused to reimburse the councils for any extra outgoings associated with bringing in experts to deal with the applications for preparatory work before the reactors are built.”

“There is a clear conflict of interest in this deal with such a large, powerful developer. The councils should do all they can to keep clear ground between themselves and EDF. Currently, the lines are very blurred.”

He added: “If the Tories get into power, the councils would play a bigger part in a decision on Hinkley C and D, but would find themselves compromised by having taken the cash.”

“New policies should go through scrutinising committees who can pick through the detail and debate the repercussions, rather than being sneaked on to a crowded agenda at the full council meetings. Democratic processes are being brushed aside, which will lead to resentment in the community.”

The comments follow a joint press statement, released last Friday, by West Somerset, Sedgemoor District and Somerset County Councils stating that the councils are reluctant to ask EDF for the cash.

Doug Bamsey, Corporate Director for Sedgemoor District Council, said, “It is important to stress that while a planning performance agreement (PPA) would pay for the resources the councils need to process the applications, the councils would interview, appoint and employ the staff or consultants completely independently of EDF Energy.

“The final decision as to whether new generation nuclear power development goes ahead in Somerset lies with the Infrastructure Planning Commission, not local authorities. Our duty is to ensure that any proposals put forward are thoroughly examined and that any impact on our communities and our environment is considered, and this involves a very real need for additional resource.”

“It is only through thorough and complete scrutiny of the proposals that any potential impacts on our community can be brought to the attention of the deciding authority, the Infrastructure Planning Commission.”

The PPA could include an arrangement for EDF Energy to meet costs associated with processing the planning application. Sedgemoor came under scrutiny earlier this year after it was revealed that it sought £750,000 from the company to investigate proposals for Hinkley Point.

William Wallace, a Somerset County Council Cabinet Member who represents the authority on the Somerset Nuclear Energy Group, added: “Whilst all three councils would have preferred central Government to provide the necessary resources for local authorities to advise on this large and complex development, we have reluctantly accepted that this is very unlikely to happen.”

“Government have advised us to work with EDF on a Planning Performance Agreement. This is a formal document, which enables us to engage appropriately in the process and ensure that local people are properly consulted. What it does not commit us to is any particular decision or consultation response. Our judgements will be based on the facts and the views of our community.”

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