For years communities and councils have been bystanders as decisions impacting their lives have been taken far away in Whitehall. When our Party entered government in 2010 it was clear that localising power would be a priority.
Over the last week localism has become a reality for my community, Sedgemoor in Somerset, which covers Bridgwater and the other communities surrounding Hinkley Point C. Our community is set to host the country’s first second generation new nuclear power station and, on Wednesday, the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s announced that it will introduce community benefit in recognition of the impact these proposals will have on those living in the surrounding areas.
My council has been campaigning on community benefit contributions for five years, negotiating with Ministers, MPs and civil servants and consistently raising this issue in Parliament, and we are delighted to see all this hard work pay off. Our local community will now receive £1,000 per Megawatt of power produced by Hinkley Point C for the entire operation of the plant. With an expected lifespan of 40 years, this could amount to £128 million for local residents, realised at first by retaining 50% of the business rates generated by the plant.
My community accepts – even embraces – its role as a pioneer in the new nuclear age, but we believe our support should not be at any price. That is why my council has fought so hard for the local community to be justly compensated for hosting what is a major national infrastructure project, required in order to meet a national need, but where the effects are felt locally. Its scale and impact will be far beyond any mitigation the community has received through the planning process and the Section 106 agreement.
A development this size will make Hinkley Point C the defining characteristic of the local area west and Somerset for the next 60 years. This is why we made the case that quality of life, environmental and psychological wellbeing are significant issues to nuclear communities such as ours. This much needed settlement will be used to fund community buildings, subsidised electricity and home energy efficiency retrofitting: no family should be living in fuel poverty on the doorstep of the UK’s newest and largest nuclear power station.
Priority will be given to those least likely to benefit, but most likely to be impacted, such as pensioners who will not benefit from any new jobs which might come to the area but whose lives will be fundamentally altered.
What Sedgemoor and has fought for and won sets a precedent for other nuclear communities in the UK. It puts low carbon technologies such as nuclear closer to parity with the incentives already in place for onshore wind and shale gas. More broadly the announcement represents a fair mechanism to reach settlements for communities which may host other nationally important infrastructure projects in the future.
Nevertheless, we believe this move marks only a partial victory for localism – because this benefit will only be realised once Hinkley Point C is operational. Now we will focus on securing community benefit during the construction phase – for at least eight years when the towns around the plant will become the biggest building site in the country blighted by traffic congestion, noise and an influx of thousands of construction workers. New roads for the developer’s trucks, or new housing for site workers under limited and inflexible Section 106 agreements, cannot possibly address the overall impact on the community over almost a decade
What DECC announced this week is unequivocally good news for councils and communities – and can potentially lead to the successful delivery of other major infrastructure projects such as new airports, rail links, and other power stations. But our campaign continues – to ensure we are more firmly in charge of our own future and power is flowing back into our hands.