A fortnight is a long time in politics, to slightly misquote former Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
Allerdale Working Group came out of the shadows to meet a Stakeholder group on 17 August. That was the beginning of a chaotic fortnight. At that meeting, Andy Ross, the individual who volunteered the whole of Allerdale excluding the Lake District (where he lives) as a site to bury the nation’s nuclear waste, was questioned. He was asked why he had chosen to exclude the Lake District National Park (LDNP), but not to exclude the Solway Coast AONB.
He said that he had chosen to exclude the LDNP as Copeland had done the same, but that it may become part of the search area again in the next stage of the process, known as the Community Partnership. This was a hugely controversial statement. It went against everything said previously, but the rest of Allerdale Working Group did not seek to correct it, they all listened and accepted the statement without comment.
The next week, members of Cumbria Trust questioned the Chair of Allerdale Working Group, Jocelyn Manners-Armstrong about the possible re-inclusion of the LDNP. Rather than seek to correct this, she complained that Cumbria Trust were not respecting the privacy of that earlier meeting, which in itself was an absurd comment. You cannot announce a major change in policy – the re-inclusion of the LDNP as a potential site to bury nuclear waste, and expect that to remain a secret.
Cumbria Trust published an article about the threat to the Lake District and that prompted the government developer, Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) to step in. However, rather than seek to correct Allerdale Working Group’s position, they set about fabricating an excuse for what was said. RWM’s response was entirely disingenuous and intentionally misleading. Eddie Martin, former Leader of Cumbria County Council has written to RWM to challenge their behaviour. Here is the text of that letter:
We were frequently promised an ’open and transparent’ process by RWM and I’m afraid your email to me on 27 August falls a long way short of that goal, as do the responses from others in your organisation to Colin Wales and your emails to the Allerdale Stakeholder Group.
While you are correct to suggest that some wards are partially within the Lake District, offering this as an explanation for what was said by Andy Ross (the interested party) is entirely disingenuous. Let me remind you of what was said and the context in which it was said.
Andy Ross was challenged about his failure to exclude the Solway Coast AONB at the start of the process, despite having excluded the Lake District National Park (LDNP). His response was to say that he had decided to exclude the LDNP since Copeland were doing the same, but that the Community Partnership may decide to re-include it. The response was confirmed by the official minutes:
“Why was LDNP excluded and AONB was not? – LDNP was not included initially by the interested party, however the CP, once set-up, could decide to re-include it going forward if they wish”
Your explanation of the wards which lie partially within the LDNP is irrelevant, and not what was meant by Andy Ross, as you are well aware. It is notable that this was said with the entire Working Group present and it was not corrected. Jocelyn Manners-Armstrong, when challenged about this on 26 August during an online meeting, defended what was said by Andy Ross and suggested raising this issue was a concerning breach of privacy by Cumbria Trust, which is absurd. The similarity with the secretive MRWS process is a concern.
To announce a major policy change (the potential re-inclusion of the LDNP) which contradicts everything said previously and then to claim this policy change must remain private, as Jocelyn Manners-Armstrong has done, is utterly preposterous. Allerdale Working Group (AWG) has descended into chaos, lost track of its remit and yet somehow believes it is not subject to public scrutiny.
RWM’s response to this situation has been both inadequate and intentionally misleading. Rather than seek to ensure that AWG publicly correct their position, they have chosen to carefully and deliberately construct a false narrative to explain AWG’s digression. This is unacceptable and makes a mockery of RWM’s claim of an open and transparent process.
In any process of this complexity, mistakes will be made. We’re all human. It’s your response to these mistakes that determines whether you can be trusted. This may be a 20 year search process. For it to succeed, the public has to develop and maintain a high level of trust and yet RWM have fallen at the first hurdle.
Rather than attempt to mislead me and fellow members of Cumbria Trust, I would ask that you do the following:
1 Ensure that Allerdale Working Group understand and admit their mistake promptly, publicly apologise and correct it, confirming that the LDNP will remain permanently excluded from this process.
2 Ensure that RWM publicly apologises for its attempt to mislead Cumbria Trust and others in its response to this.