DECC Publishes White Paper on Implementing Geological Disposal
Following a consultation on improving the process of finding a site to host a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF), the Government published a White Paper on 24th July 2014. This White Paper created a new and improved plan for working with communities to identify a site for a GDF. Over the next two years the Government will work with experts and the public to give greater clarity on issues such as national geological screening, the planning process and the environmental impacts. The Government will also look at how communities will be represented and what further investment they can expect to see if they choose to host a GDF.
The Government has confirmed that it will be proceeding with the GDF through the Planning Act 2008 system, once a site is chosen. This involves bringing GDFs, and the borehole investigations that support their development, within the statutory definition of ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects’ (NSIPs) within the Planning Act 2008. This will provide an appropriate process for planning decisions, making public consultation an integral part of this process and thus supporting the Government’s voluntarist approach. The Government will publish a National Policy Statement (NPS) to support the planning process, providing the framework within which the decision to construct will be taken, and further upfront information to inform discussions with communities. As required by the Planning Act 2008, this NPS will be subject to public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny.
An Appraisal of Sustainability will also be made of the proposed National Policy Statement for a GDF. This will be designed to fulfil the requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive, considering alternative means of implementing geological disposal, other than that of the proposed implementation of the policy through an NPS.
The Government expects these amendments to the Planning Act 2008 and the publication of the NPS to be in place by 2016, when the process of working with communities is expected to begin.
The Government has again stated that it remains committed to finding a site for the GDF by means of voluntarism, on working with communities that are willing to participate in the siting process. Following this White Paper, the Government will convene a community representation working group. This group will address the challenging and complex issues that have been raised in relation to community representation and engagement at potential GDF sites. Proposals relating to the activities described in the White Paper will be developed between 2014 and 2016, prior to formal engagement with communities. This will enable the approach to community representation to be clearly defined by 2016.
On community benefits, the Government has stated that community investment of up to £1m per involved community, per year, will be made available in the early stages of the siting process. This amount of community investment would rise to up to £2.5m per year for the community that progresses to the stage of intrusive, borehole investigations to assess a potentially suitable site.
The Government has recognised the importance of providing upfront information, on issues such as geology, socio-economic impacts and community investment. This is a step in the right direction and hopefully will improve the confidence that local communities have in the Government’s programme. Clarity on the amount of community benefits available will be welcome news and the timeframes are becoming more certain. The Government recognises, however that more work on community involvement needs to be undertaken between now and 2016.
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