Inquiry into housing near nuclear site ends
Health and safety concerns revealed during probe into plans for 115 homes near Atomic Weapons Establishment
WEST Berkshire Council, Hampshire police and the Royal Berkshire Ambulance Trust have all objected to proposals for a major housing development near to the Atomic Weapons Establishment, Aldermaston, it was revealed during a public inquiry yesterday (Thursday).
Their objections, on health and safety grounds, were considered during the summary hearing of an inquiry into proposals by Cala Homes to build 115 houses and apartments on the Boundary Hall site, Tadley, close to where nuclear warheads are manufactured and maintained for Britain's Trident defence programme.
The controversial planning application is the first to have raised serious concerns by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), because of the proposed development's close proximity to an emergency zone, prompting fears that swift evacuations for residents might not be possible.
Boundary Hall lies just 500 metres from the boundary of the AWE's 660-acre site which handles high explosives and radioactive substances.
Following yesterday's hearing, Phillip Ware, the inspector who has led the 12-day inquiry into the Cala Homes project throughout October and November, must now produce a report by mid-March for the Secretary of State before the final decision is made.
The inquiry has heard objections from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which was alerted by the NII to concerns that population levels within the inner Detailed Emergency Preparedness Zone - the area within 3km from AWE - had already reached their limit.
Representing the HSE, Russell Harris QC said that in the event of any nuclear incident at AWE, anyone living in the proposed development was likely to be exposed to a radiation dose in excess of 30 times the statutory limit.
Mr Harris also said that planning consent for an existing housing development in West Berkshire, Falcon Fields (Kestral Meads), which is also close to the AWE, should “not have been granted.”
He disclosed that Hampshire County Council emergency planners, Hampshire Constabulary and the Royal Berkshire Ambulance Trust had all objected to the Cala Homes proposal, and said that neither Hampshire nor Thames Valley police forces had specifically trained officers for dealing with a nuclear incident at AWE.
Speaking on behalf of Cala Homes, Roger Griffiths QC said the risk of any nuclear incident was very low.
He said that the former Ministry of Defence Boundary Hall site had previously housed AWE workers and that the HSE had not raised any objection to the Falcon Fields site, or to a 2001 application by Tesco for a large food store on the site.
He also said that developers' contributions raised from the new development would help fund the provision of a new scout facility, to replace an existing old hut on the site, along with two open spaces which would include a children's play area and improvements to a public footpath.
Representing Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, Tom Cosgrove QC said the development would provide “much needed” market homes in the town - 46 of which would be affordable - together with local employment.
Two borough councillors at the summary proceedings, David Leeks (Con, Tadley south) and Michael Bound (Lib Dem, Baughurst and Tadley north) told NewburyToday after the proceedings that they were still in favour of the proposals, due to the need for more housing in the town.
For more on this report, pick up a copy of next Thursday's Newbury Weekly News.