18 months ago the Lake District became a UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS), the only UK National Park to be recognised in that way. The bid for WHS status was backed by two government departments, Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Now a third government department, Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), is placing that status at risk by refusing to recognise the need to protect the Lake District and other designated areas. BEIS have insisted that National Parks will not be excluded from the search for a site to bury the UK’s inventory of nuclear waste. The designated area at greatest risk from this is the Lake District National Park, since Copeland Borough Council, the majority of which is within the Lake District, has already started to hold meetings behind closed doors which are likely to lead to the borough volunteering.
Cumbria Trust has formally notified the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) that the recent failure of the government department, BEIS, to exclude designated areas, poses a serious risk to the World Heritage Site. We understand that this concern is shared by a number of other organisations.
The lack of joined-up thinking between government departments has been a common theme of the troubled search for a site to bury the UK’s nuclear waste. During the last search process, two parts of the same department, DECC (the predecessor of BEIS), were in conflict with each other. The department was found to be offering hydrocarbon exploration licences in the same area that it was considering burying nuclear waste, ignoring the critical need to prevent future civilisations inadvertently drilling into a geological disposal facility (GDF) in search of resources.
We would urge BEIS to think again. Allowing designated areas such as National Parks to be included within the search for a GDF site is not merely short-sighted, but it fails to recognise the protection offered to these areas under UK law. Should a designated site be selected, there is a requirement to investigate and rule out the entire non-designated land area of England and Wales before a major development of this kind could take place.
Cumbria Trust looks forward to UNESCO taking a closer interest in this matter.