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“The Members of Essex County Council are very concerned that the Government is only undertaking a very limited public consultation on Bradwell being a suitable site for a replacement Nuclear Power Station. Members call upon the Government to widen this consultation across Essex so that all our residents have the opportunity to make their voices heard on this very important issue.”

This was the motion put forward by Essex Liberal Democrats at the meeting of Essex County Council on 15th December.

It looks pretty measured doesn’t it? It doesn’t indulge in party-political posturing. It doesn’t even pompously declare that “Liberal Democrats are very concerned” but uses the neutral “Members of Essex County Council are very concerned”. It doesn’t require the spending of large sums of taxpayers’ money or force the County Council to do something (heaven forfend!). It simply requests that the Government – the Labour Government – extend its very narrow consultation on a potential new nuclear power station at Bradwell to the rest of Essex (the existing Bradwell nuclear power station was decommissioned on 28 March 2002). The motion doesn’t put pro-nuclear supporters in a difficult position by offering an opinion as to whether nuclear power is a good thing or a bad thing. Rather, it simply makes the point that on an issue this big the whole of Essex should be consulted.

As motions go, particularly those designed to attract support from across the political spectrum, it’s pretty darn good. So more on the motion in just a moment.

First, it’s worth taking a moment to examine quite how appalling the consultation referred to is. Or rather – was. I think. To be honest, it isn’t so clear. On 9 December, the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) issued a press release entitled “What does new nuclear mean for Essex?” It boasts:

“Residents of Essex are this weekend being asked to have their say on proposals to a build a new nuclear power station in the area……The announcement on new nuclear sites was made as part of a planning overhaul for big energy projects and ten potential new sites for nuclear energy were named in the draft Nuclear National Policy Statement. These sites are Bradwell, Braystones, Hartlepool, Heysham, Hinkley Point, Kirksanton, Oldbury, Sellafield, Sizewell and Wylfa. Bradwell was nominated by EDF, who are currently seeking to sell the site to a credible nuclear operator.

Following the nomination of the sites the Department of Energy and Climate Change is conducting a 15 week consultation to hear people’s views about the proposals.

The new Infrastructure Planning Commission will use the National Policy Statement when considering planning applications for new nuclear power stations. This consultation is an opportunity for local people to influence what the IPC should take into account when considering whether to grant consent or not.”

It looks promising. There is a fifteen week consultation. There is an opportunity for local people to influence what should be taken into account when considering whether to grant consent or not. In fact, the press release begins by saying “Residents of Essex are this weekend being asked to have their say on proposals to a build a new nuclear power station in the area”.

  • On Wednesday 9 December DECC issues its press release including consultation details.
  • On Thursday 10 December there is an exhibition in West Mersea.
  • On Friday 11 December there is an exhibition in Maldon.
  • On Saturday 12 December there is an exhibition in Bradwell-on-Sea.
  • And there were two “two public discussion events” – but no details were provided in the release. (They clearly weren’t intended for non-locals who I assume – hope – were at least leafleted.)

And… Er… That’s it.

Residents of Essex, eh?

Even though DECC describe the site in their press release as “near Chelmsford” there isn’t a consultation in Chelmsford. Despite it being a fifteen week consultation, Essex gets five highly localised events in the three days immediately after the press release going out. I may be atypical of your average Essex resident, but even despite my political interests, I don’t keep tend to keep track of Government department press releases day by day.

Good luck to those of you who do and managed to get there.

According to the website of West Mersea Council, West Mersea has a population of 6,925 people. According to the website of Maldon District CouncilMaldon has a population of approximately 60,700. The website of Bradwell Parish Council doesn’t provide any information on population – but Wikipedia lists the population as 877. According to the website of Essex County Council, the population of Essex is 1,396,400 (excluding Thurrock and Southend-on-Sea – though in the event of disaster, I am not convinced fallout is as discriminating as the Boundary Commission).

Of course the residents of those places should be consulted. However the Labour Government (DECC) and the Infrastructure Planning Commission think that consulting 0.05% (I am rounding up here) of the population of Essex is somehow giving residents of Essex the chance to have their say. As for the time given over to consultation, the DECC press release highlights a paltry three specified days in a fifteen week consultation.

It is nothing short of outrageous – a complete scandal in a 21st century liberal democracy.

And you would think that the Conservative Party, a national party of opposition, that controls the County Council, would want to stick up for the right of local people to be heard, regardless of its own policies on nuclear power.

Back to the motion…

Did the Conservatives support the Liberal Democrat motion?

Not a chance. The Tories voted against. They opposed the extension of the consultation to the rest of Essex and, by doing so, have effectively said our views don’t matter.

Essex County Council doesn’t record how people vote as a matter of course. Why should they – after all, you are not interested in what your elected representatives are doing, are you? Therefore, finding out which way your local representatives voted looks like being a case of emailing them directly.

You can find your way to the contact details for Essex County Councillors here. For those readers in Basildon, the following Conservative councillors may well have voted to prevent you having more information:

I have emailed each of them to ask if they were there on 15 December and, if they were, how they voted. If they opposed the motion, I have asked why they don’t believe the Government should consult the people in Basildon that they are elected to represent.

You might want to do the same.

I would be interested to know the reasons people vote as they do – so please add a comment to this blog piece!

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