Campaign group launches legal appeal to thwart Sizewell C

Campaigners objecting to the construction of Sizewell C nuclear power station have launched a legal appeal to stop the £20bn project in its tracks.

In July, the government approved plans for the Suffolk project, which, when built, will generate low-carbon electricity for six million homes in the UK.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said in a decision notice that “the very substantial and urgent need for the proposal” outweighed concerns of harm, including damage to areas of outstanding natural beauty.

It marked the end of a process to gain a development consent order – planning permission for a major project – that had lasted more than two years, owing to numerous delays.

However, campaign group Together Against Sizewell C Limited (TASC) has now argued that the government’s decision to approve the plans was “unlawful”.

It has sent a pre-action protocol (PAP) letter to make the case that development consent was given to the 60-year electricity project unlawfully, signalling the start of the judicial review process.

TASC, which is being represented by law firm Leigh Day, argues that the decision to grant approval to the plans was unlawful:

  • Due to a failure to assess the implications of the project as a whole by ignoring the issue of whether a permanent water supply could be secured;
  • Even if it was lawful to consider the water supply as a separate project to the plant to assess the environmental impact of that project cumulatively with the impact of Sizewell C;
  • Due to a failure to explain, in the alternative, why the secretary of state disagreed with Natural England’s warnings about the risks of not assessing all elements of the planning proposal at the Development Consent Order stage;
  • Due to a failure to consider alternatives to the project;
  • By taking into account reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) when there was no evidence that the water-supply solution would be in place before a key deadline for GHG targets; and
  • By assuming the site would be clear of nuclear material by 2140, when the evidence showed a much later date.

TASC has said it is fundraising towards the cost of the judicial review. Chair of the group Pete Wilkinson argued that the case against the multi-billion-pound project was “overwhelming”.

He said: “Even to consider building a £20bn-plus nuclear power plant without first securing a water supply is a measure of the fixation this government has for nuclear power and its panic in making progress towards an energy policy that is as unachievable as it is inappropriate for the 21st century challenges we face.

“Government has seen fit to ignore the Planning Inspector’s recommendation to deny the application and it therefore falls to campaign groups to defend East Suffolk from the ravages of this unnecessary nuclear development.”

He said TASC was “delighted” to be supported by Suffolk Coastal Friends of the Earth in its efforts and to work with others opposed to the “scandalous attack on the Suffolk environment”.

Leigh Day associate solicitor Rowan Smith said: “We are proud to represent TASC in the local community’s continued fight to help protect Suffolk’s heritage coast and wildlife sites.

“Our client is understandably shocked that the secretary of state has gone against the considered and reasoned view of the independent Planning Inspectorate and granted development consent in a potentially legally flawed manner.

“TASC has very real concerns that the environmental impacts of Sizewell C have not been properly assessed. If the secretary of state does not see the error of his ways then we intend to do all we can to bring this to the court’s attention.”

In the government’s decision letter, it said the secretary of state was “satisfied” that there would be an “adequate supply of both potable and non-potable water” during the construction period, and that the impact of water supply during construction had been “properly assessed”.

TASC had argued that approval for the project should only be granted if a “guarantee[d] water supply could be provided throughout operation and decommissioning”.

The project, proposed by French energy giant EDF, will see the construction of a two-reactor nuclear power station, capable of generating 3.2GW of electricity, which is enough to provide 7 per cent of the UK’s needs or six million homes.

Although approval has been granted, the project is still seeking investors, with the government suggesting it may use a Regulated Asset Base model approach. This would see consumers fund the initial construction costs through their energy bills to take forward future nuclear builds.

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