Draft National Policy statement for Geological Disposal Infrastructure Contents

2National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

A site-agnostic NPS

11.Unlike other NPSs,19 but not all,20 this draft NPS is not site-specific. This is because the Government’s chosen approach for site identification is a voluntary one whereby through community engagement prospective host communities put themselves forward and give final consent to hosting the GDI, as outlined in the Government’s ‘Working With Communities’ consultation21 which is not part of this inquiry. The Government’s preferred scenario is for the waste to be managed in one GDI only.22 However, the fact that this draft NPS is site-agnostic implies that more than one GDI could be built and that it could be done anywhere in England—provided that the site put forward by a community met the NPS’s Assessment Principles and Impacts.

12.As currently drafted, the NPS does not contain any exclusionary criteria.Some of the stakeholders we received evidence from—Campaign for National Parks,23 Friends of the Lake District,24 and the Lake District National Park Authority25—were concerned that this creates a risk that National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (‘AONBs’) could end up hosting the GDI.

An exclusionary criterion

13.Campaign for National Parks contended that

Geological disposal is completely incompatible with the statutory purposes of National Parks, particularly the conservation and enhancement of wildlife, cultural heritage and natural beauty26

The Lake District National Park Authority said they failed to see how a “development of this scale could be consistent with legislation and national policies protecting National Parks, AONBs or World Heritage Sites”.27

14.Campaign for National Parks also said that National Parks “deliver key environmental resources and services” and “make a significant contribution to the economy through tourism, farming, and other related businesses” that must not be put at risk by major developments such as geological disposal.”28 Friends of the Lake District made a similar point in their evidence.29

15.Because of the environmental benefits they provide, conservation areas enjoy strong legal protection under the Environment Act 1995 which established a duty for all public bodies to:

take account of the potential effect of their decisions and activities on National Park purposes, including activities undertaken outside National Park boundaries which may affect land within them.30

In addition, there is a presumption against major developments in National Parks within national planning policy.31

16.Campaign for National Parks also argued that because National Parks and AONBs are national designations, it would be impractical and unrealistic to get agreement from the entire national community on whether to put forward a site.32 As a result, they asked for an exclusionary criterion to be added to the NPS so that all geological disposal developments be explicitly outlawed in protected areas such as National Parks and AONBs in the NPS.33

The Appraisal of Sustainability and the Government’s view

17.Campaign for National Parks acknowledged that the draft NPS already contains requirements for the Secretary of State and the developer to take into account the impact of a GDI on National Parks and AONBs under existing planning guidance.34 The draft NPS, for instance, prescribes that:

If development is proposed in a nationally designated area, the Secretary of State should refuse development consent in these areas except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated that it is in the public interest.35

18.The Appraisal of Sustainability supporting the draft NPS highlighted the ‘significant positive effect’ on biodiversity, air, noise, cultural heritage, and landscape and townscape that the addition of an exclusionary criterion on the grounds of landscape, cultural and natural heritage and nature conservation would bring.36 However, the Appraisal also found that the draft NPS as currently drafted was nevertheless likely to have a ‘positive effect’ on the 13 Appraisal of Sustainability objectives including biodiversity, and landscape and townscape.37

19.Moreover, in the Appraisal of Sustainability report, the Government argued that:

broad exclusionary criteria are not necessary to achieve the goal of ensuring that the environment is suitably protected, as site-specific examination may show it is possible to develop infrastructure in these areas without an unacceptable impact on people or the environment.38

20.As a result, despite the Appraisal of Sustainability report concluding that an exclusionary criterion would have the most positive effect, the Government decided against excluded National Parks and AONBs on the grands that it did not “wish to foreclose future possible locations that could be more advantageous in addressing safety over the lifetime of the facility.”39 The Government also claimed that “the adoption of exclusionary criteria may not necessarily exclude the possibility of adverse effects occurring” and that it:

could result in unintended effects arising from increased development pressure on areas that, whilst not designated, may be sensitive to development (for example, areas at risk of flooding) or have value in terms of, for example, the economy or mineral resources.40

21.Richard Harrington MP, Minister for Business and Industry, also told us in evidence that the Government was not in favour of exclusionary criteria as they would preclude proposals from communities who may be interested in hosting a GDI that will have been designed to minimise the environmental impact:

We have to look at all possible sites where communities want it. For example, the potash proposal near Whitby in North Yorkshire is in a national park, but the people who are proposing the site have shown a way of doing it where the actual buildings that are left will leave very little blot on the landscape of the national park. I am not saying we should have them on national parks, but it would be very wrong to exclude them at the moment in this big policy statement. [ … ] I do not want to prejudge the situation. If it was huge, one-kilometre-wide industrial building in the middle of a national park, of course that would not be suitable.41

The Minister concluded that it wanted:

to ensure that the separate siting process has sufficient flexibility to identify the safest location for a GDF over the lifetime of the facility.42

22.In their evidence, Campaign for National Parks had expressed concerns about safety and security factors being given greater weight than environmental concerns due to the nature of the material being stored.43 We note those concerns but we believe that given the nature of the material to be stored in a GDI, safety matters should be paramount and be given a greater weight than any other criterion.

23.We also note the conclusions from the Appraisal of Sustainability that the overall impact of the GDI on the Appraisal criteria is “positive”, although we recognise that it is necessarily less “positive” than if National Parks and AONBs were excluded from developments. In our view existing planning legislation and the NPS contain sufficient safeguards against intrusive developments and environmental damage in National Parks and AONBs, particularly because any development requires community consent. We agree with the Government that a site could conceivably be designed in a way that would be acceptable to communities, preserve the benefits of National Parks and AONBs and avoid any surface facility in conservation areas.

20 Q4 [Dr Pauleen Lane]

21 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Working with communities: implementing geological disposal, 25 January 2018

26 Campaign for National Parks, GDI0002, p 1

27 GDI0003, para ii

28 GDI0002, para 2

29 GDI0014, para 17

30 GDI0002, para 6

31 Q21 [Ruth Bradshaw]

32 Q18 [Ruth Bradshaw]

35 Same as above, para 5.10.9.

36 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Appraisal of Sustainability of the National Policy Statement for geological disposal infrastructure: report, Table 2, xvii

37 Same as above.

39 Same as above, xix

40 Same as above.

41 Q127&130 [Richard Harrington MP]

43 Same as above, xix

Published: 31 July 2018