Judge backs Pickles over nuclear waste decision

Plans to dump low-level nuclear waste at a facility near Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire, until 2013 have won the backing of London’s High Court.

Deputy Judge Stewart QC rejected a challenge to the proposal from a local woman who claims that it puts a "foot in the door" for long-term radioactive waste disposal there.

Louise Bowen-West, a member of the King’s Cliffe Wastewatchers, a group of residents banded together to raise concerns about the East Northants Resource Management Facility landfill site, had hoped to persuade Deputy Judge Stewart QC to quash a government decision to grant planning permission for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste there until the end of August 2013.

However, the judge today backed the decision, made by communities secretary Eric Pickles, saying: "This was a planning decision which he was lawfully entitled to make. It has no taint of irrationality."

The judge refused Bowen-West permission to appeal and ordered her to pay £5,000 towards the government’s legal costs. She had previously secured a protected costs order limiting her potential costs exposure to that amount.

Bowen-West and her fellow campaigners are concerned that this gives site operator Augean a foot in the door for its proposals to expand the site’s operation for hazardous and nuclear wastes until 2026, using the other half of the site.

She argued that the secretary of state’s planning inspector, when considering the application for permission until 2013, recognised that granting it would "enhance" the prospects of permission being granted to expand the operations, but that he and the secretary of state wrongly failed to take into account the potential longer term environmental impacts when granting planning permission.

European law requires that, for proposals like these, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) must be carried out prior to granting planning permission, and that this must assess the indirect, secondary and cumulative impacts of the proposals.

But Bowen-West argued that the EIA prior to this grant of permission did not consider the impacts of the longer term proposals for the other half of the site, which she argues plainly fell into the category of "indirect, secondary or cumulative" impacts.

Her counsel, David Forsdick, argued that this was a "classic case of the developer obtaining through this permission a foot in the door for the extended landfill" and said that the decision was unlawful and should be quashed.

However, the judge today ruled that the inspector and the secretary of state had not taken the wrong approach in treating this as a stand-alone decision, and that they made clear that any future application for permission to expand the site "could and should and would be considered on its own merits".

He added: "I do not accept that the inspector and the secretary of state have failed to ask and answer the correct question."

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