Economy & Blight

Planning blight is recognised in law – and has been for many decades. It occurs when planning proposals cause uncertainty.

Planning blight has recently hit the news in the context of the HS2 proposals, where property and other prices in the villages affected, are falling dramatically. Compensation is limited to those within 120 metres of the proposed line so the vast majority of those affected will get nothing!

The so-called MRWS scheme does envisage compensation for communities and individuals affected by a GDF, but the details about the amounts and timing of payments are sketchy to say the least.

This is not scaremongering: a proposal to construct a GDF will, inevitably, have serious consequences for large swathes of West Cumbria (outside the Sellafield area).

In the Nirex enquiry, for example, the Planning Inspector said:

It would be an economic detriment to significantly consolidate the nuclear industry by establishing the repository near Sellafield.  There could be noteworthy effects on tourism, fisheries and inward investment in business”.

And that was with respect to a proposal to locate the repository in relative proximity to Sellafield itself, which is, effectively, a nuclear zone hosting Cumbria’s nuclear industry.

The property market in Whitehaven and South Copeland, traditionally characterised by lowish prices, has arguably “benefited” from Sellafield being there: that fact that it pays high wages and creates rental demand has pushed up property prices

However, property markets and tourism in the Lakes and the rest of Cumbria have been little affected by Sellafield’s existence for a number of reasons including our poor road network/public-transport infrastructure plus our glorious Cumbrian mountains. Both factors have created a perception that Sellafield belongs to a different world despite the fact that it is only a few air miles away from, say, Keswick/ Borrowdale or Ambleside/ Windermere/ Langdale.

This perception would, however, alter radically should a GDF impinge on any part of the National Park. Were this to happen, the £2bn tourism industry, which employs 57,000 people in Cumbria, could be seriously jeopardised.

Whilst we are against a GDF anywhere in West Cumbria on geological safety grounds (including the Sellafield area which failed in Nirex), IF one assumes for these purposes that a GDF anywhere in West Cumbria would be geologically safe, then what would be the planning and blight effect?

We can see there may be an argument that any planning and economic blight from a geologically safe GDF located directly beneath the Sellafield site might be relatively limited. However if a GDF (even a safe one!) were to be located outside the confines of the existing Sellafield site then the effects on residential, commercial and agricultural property, tourism businesses and inward investment would be truly significant especially in Cumbria given our reliance on tourism as a County.

Earlier this year, the local pro-GDF politicians queued up to denounce the plans for a low-level nuclear-waste landfill site at Keekle Head – quite rightly in our view! They argued that it made no sense for there to be nuclear proliferation away from the existing sites.

On 28.06.13, The News and Star reported that:

Tim Knowles, who represents the Cleator Moor East and Frizington division, told members at yesterday’s meeting of the full council that he was “disgusted” by the process.

He said: “A company which is nothing more than a front for a French multi-national is appealing against the committee’s decision not to allow the construction of a massive nuclear waste site on an inaccessible west Cumbrian site.”

Mr Knowles said that the site could be accessed only by rural roads and that, according to the nuclear industry’s own figures, there would be no need for any such increase in capacity until after 2030.

He said: “Whilst I accept that it is any applicant’s right to appeal a planning decision, part of the argument being deployed is that we have no regulatory function in this matter. The contempt which this company shows us flies in the face of localism policies. Copeland, Allerdale and ourselves are against this ridiculous proposal and we should be loudly making our case against these opportunists.”

David Southward, the portfolio holder for economic development, said that, had the original proposal been successful, it had intended to import the waste from Scotland.

He added that the reasons for the refusal included both congestion on the rural roads and “planning blight”, which would have deterred businesses and visitors from coming to the area.

The high-profile supporter of a GDF, Jamie Reed MP, said this in 2010 with regard to landfilling nuclear waste at Keekle Head:

“I understand the need for additional disposal facilities but I don’t believe these should be undertaken away from the existing areas – it makes no sense to do so. There is huge potential at Sellafield for development of these facilities. In the right area they could meet a real and growing environmental need and provide real local opportunities for local businesses.”

Whilst we believe that all of the geology of West Cumbria, including the Sellafield area, is unsuitable for a GDF and no process should be restarted as a consequence, we also believe from a blight and economic perspective it incumbent on all politicians to avoid a ridiculous situation like MRWS1, where all of Allerdale and Copeland (70% of which are in the National Park, more in AONB etc) were being considered.

To quote Mr Reed again:

“It makes no sense”.

Need we say more?