EDF Energy could be set this week to submit its final plans for a new £14billion nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast to the Government – despite widespread anger over the timing of the application.
Community leaders across east Suffolk, along with many influential organisations and a host of celebrities have demanded that the power giant puts its plans for the new Sizewell C twin reactor on hold until after the coronavirus lockdown restrictions are lifted.
They fear that current bans on public meetings and people getting together even in small groups, plus the continued closure of libraries, will prevent many from seeing the full plans, debating them and giving their views.
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter has written to Government ministers urging them to reject the planning application, known as the Development Consent Order, until after the Covid-19 crisis.
News that the application is about to be made has left them deeply disappointed and saying it is the most inappropriate time to do so.
According to The Sunday Times, EDF is to make its DCO submission on Wednesday.
The company had originally intended to submit the application to the Planning Inspectorate by the end of March.
Because of the pandemic it delayed the DCO but said this would only be for “a few weeks” and indicated that it still intended to submit the order before the end of lockdown and was talking to the inspectorate about extending the timeframe for people to comment.
The company said: “To that end we are discussing the following proposals with the Planning Inspectorate: extending the period for relevant representations during the pre-examination phase, introducing measures to make sure everybody is aware of the application when it is submitted, agreeing with the Planning Inspectorate that the examination process itself will not start until they are happy that no parties are disadvantaged.”
It says once submitted it will be at least 28 days before anything further happens while the Planning Inspectorate staff go through the huge number of documents to ensure the DCO can be accepted and registered. If submitted on Wednesday, this would mean it would be June 25 at the earliest when details of the final plans would be revealed and people could begin to read the documents.
Alison Downes, of Stop Sizewell C, said: “EDF could hardly have chosen a more inappropriate time to submit its Sizewell C application, with continuing coronavirus restrictions that threaten to disadvantage us all and controversy raging about China’s involvement.
“And even EDF must be painfully aware of the irony of applying for permission to build two new reactors whilst it is being paid to partly turn off one it already has.”
Sizewell B currently has one of its turbines powered down – halving its output – as part of a deal with the National Grid to reduce the amount of electricity generated because there has been a 20% drop in energy use caused by Covid-19. While domestic use has obviously increased with people confined to home, the amount of power used by industry has dropped dramatically.
The National Grid Electricity System Operator, which contols supply and demand, has offered fixed-term contracts with power generators to “compensate” the industry for agreeing to reduce their output.
In a letter to local councils, Dr Poulter said EDF’s Sizewell C consultation was “unacceptable” and he did not believe this was a good time to progress the project.
He said: “Something of this magnitude needs proper consideration and scrutiny. I have therefore written to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy to request that the consent order for the next phase of the Sizewell project should not be considered during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
A group of 56 town and parish councils have also spoken out against the submission of the DCO during lockdown as part of a campaign coordinated by the Anglian Energy Planning Alliance and Stop Sizewell C.
Tim Beach, of Snape Parish Council, said: “We still maintain that EDF would be wrong to submit its Sizewell C application at the moment. We are disappointed and surprised by Suffolk County Council and East Suffolk Council saying they are ‘supportive’ of EDF doing so, when many communities are working flat out to support the local government response to the pandemic. The caution the Prime Minister used in his public address tells us that our communities will be facing restrictions for many many months to come.”
Stephen Brett, chair of Theberton and Eastbridge Parish Council. said: “There is a real sense of solidarity among towns and parishes in east Suffolk, and a shared determination to defend the principle that everyone must be able to fully engage in scrutinising the Sizewell C application when it comes. The county and district councils must stand firm and we hope this overwhelming support strengthens their ability to do so.”
An EDF Energy spokeswoman said: “We anticipate submitting the planning application for Sizewell C soon following a pause due to the coronavirus.
“We will confirm as soon as the planning application is submitted.
“It is important to note that public engagement in the process will not begin until the planning inspectorate accepts the application which takes around a month.
“Sizewell C will deliver a major boost in skills, training, jobs and business contracts to Suffolk and across the UK and will be vital for reaching our Net Zero carbon emissions target.”