Draft National Policy statement for Geological Disposal Infrastructure Contents

4Local community consent

Community consent in the NPS

38.As indicated earlier, our inquiry does not focus on the ‘Working With Communities’ policy, on which the Government consulted separately.75 Nevertheless, given how contentious previous attempts to find a site for a GDI have proved to be, our work would have been incomplete if we had failed to examine whether the Government was right to keep community consent separate from the NPS. Unlike other NPSs76 (but by all means not every NPS), this NPS does not list community consent or community engagement amongst its Assessment Principles.

39.When we asked whether this should be rectified, the majority of the evidence we received agreed. Some like the Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group77 and Copeland Borough Council,78 while broadly supportive of the process outlined in ‘Working With Communities’, argued it was “essential”79 and “axiomatic”80 that community consent be added to the list of Assessment Principles and Impacts in the NPS. Pupils 2 Parliament,81 NuLeaf,82 the Lake District National Park Authority,83 Campaign for National Parks,84 and Prospect85 shared the same view.

40.Cumbria County Council differed and claimed that:

It is not clear what value adding Local Community Consent to the list would bring to the decision making process given that without passing the Test of Public Support a development consent application for a GDF could not be submitted and it is at the point of assessing an application for a GDF that the policies in the NPS become pertinent.86

Interaction between development consent and community consent

41.Copeland Borough Council was amongst the stakeholders who more generally noted that “the link between the NPS and the local siting process, likely to involve several ‘volunteer’ communities, is [not] adequately reflected in the draft”87 - a view echoed by NuLeaf:

Our sense is just, going back to some of the earlier discussion here, that there is not necessarily the clarity at the present time about exactly how that community consent process, voluntarist process, ability to veto the process from the local community, will interact with the NPS properly.88

Evidence from Mr Alun Ellis made a similar point,89 and Stephen Tromans QC said it was also CoRWM’s view that “it should be made clear that an application for a development consent order should not come forward until the test of community consent has been passed.”90

42.We were reassured by RWM’s explanation of the process:

It is not in the NPS, but the point is that the Working With Communities policy requires us to get a consenting community before we can put in a DCO application. We cannot put in a DCO application for boreholes until we are engaged with the community and we have a community partnership. We cannot put in a DCO for a GDF until we have had a final test of community support and confirmed with that community. You will never have a position where we are applying for a DCO without a consenting community, because sequentially it goes the other way round.91

43.Dr Pauleen Lane told us that “This is the first time that there has been a separate process identified as an issue of community consent that is separate to but parallel to an NPS.”92 We note her concern that “importing the question as to the test of the validity of community consent into a national policy statement takes it to a place that they were never meant to be.”93 We also acknowledge that planning legislation requires the Planning Inspectorate and Secretary of State to judge the extent to which the developer has engaged with affected communities.94

44.We conclude that what may be a clear framework to the developer and Planning Inspectorate may not be as easily accessible to a lay audience. It is of paramount importance that prospective host communities understand how their ‘right of withdrawal’ interacts with the development consent orders for boreholes and geological disposal. We do not suggest that community consent should become an Assessment Principle as we think the ‘Working With Communities’ policy already guarantees to communities that no GDI could be granted development consent without their express approval. However, the NPS as currently drafted does not explain clearly how these two frameworks interact. The Government should clarify the degree of priority afforded to community consent in the NPS in a way that is accessible to a lay audience so as to give prospective communities all the tools they need to engage with the siting process.

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

77 GDI0009, p5

78 GDI0008, para 1.9

79 GDI0008, para 1.9

80 GDI0009, p5

81 GDI0006, para 24

82 GDI0005, para 14

83 GDI0003, para 3.1

84 GDI0002, para 20

86 GDI0011, para 2.15

87 GDI0008, para 3.10

88 Q12, 31 [Philip Matthews]

90 Q42 [Stephen Tromans QC]

91 Q48 [Bruce McKirdy]

92 Q15 [Dr Pauleen Lane]

93 Q35 [Dr Pauleen Lane]

94 Q8 [Dr Pauleen Lane]

Published: 31 July 2018