Sun, 21 Feb 2021
WEST Berkshire Council has won a legal battle against developers wanting to build up to 15,000 homes near a nuclear weapons factory.
The site in Grazeley, around one mile from AWE Burghfield, had been earmarked for a huge ‘garden town’, but the project has now been thrown into doubt.
That’s because in March 2020, the district council extended the Detailed Emergency Planning Zone (DEPZ) around the factory and it now covers the proposed site.
Anyone in the zone can be affected by a “reasonably foreseeable” radiation emergency and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) says it is not safe to build thousands of homes there as it would be “challenging” to evacuate or shelter all the residents quickly during a radiation emergency.
But three companies – Crest Nicholson, Hallam Land Management and Wilson Enterprises Limited – challenged the decision to extend the DEPZ through a judicial review – the first challenge under the new regulations in the country.
They claimed the council had failed to provide sufficient reasons for the decision and the oversight of the decision-making process was “deficient”.
But High Court judge Mr Justice Thornton ruled in favour of the council, concluding that it was obliged to extend the zone and the decision was based on a “highly technical, scientific predictive assessment” that was conducted correctly by nuclear experts.
He also refused to disclose that assessment with the developers due to concerns about “national security implications”.
The judge’s ruling states: “The claimants’ case fails to grapple properly, or at all, with the true significance in public safety terms of the designation process. Nor does it show any proper understanding of the national security issues arising from the information which underlies the decision.
“The claim is motivated entirely by the claimants’ private proprietary interests in the development of its site.”
West Berkshire Council executive member for emergency planning Hilary Cole (Con, Chieveley and Cold Ash) said: “I’m delighted with the decision.
“The determination of the Detailed Emergency Planning Zone around the AWE Burghfield site was undertaken with a great deal of diligence and strictly in accordance with the legislative requirements. The judgment has confirmed this.”
The extension came after the Government introduced new legislation requiring every organisation working with nuclear material to review their emergency plans using a new framework and gave West Berkshire Council the final decision on determining the DEPZ.
After AWE carried out that review, it produced a report stating that the radius of the DEPZ around the factory should be increased from 1,600m to 3,160m.
The recommendation was assessed and approved by Public Health England and the Office for Nuclear Regulation.
According to the MOD, the DEPZ was extended “due to changes in the evaluation and assessment required, not because of any changes in the inventory of materials or in the operations at AWE Burghfield”.
West Berkshire Council was legally required to accept that recommendation and extend the DEPZ when it prepared its Off-Site Emergency Plan for the factory.
West Berkshire Council, Wokingham Borough Council and Reading Borough Council had been working with the developers to prepare plans for a development in Grazeley, allocate land and secure funding for infrastructure.
But West Berkshire Council abandoned the project after it extended the DEPZ and the Government rejected a £252m bid for infrastructure funding in 2020.