Planning inspectors recommended refusal for new nuclear power plant

Wylfa Newydd. Photo by DECCgovuk, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter

Plans to build a new nuclear power station were likely to be refused even before the project was shelved by backers.

UK Government appointed planning inspectors had recommended that the Wylfa Newydd project on Anglesey be rejected over a number of concerns from experts.

The application has since been withdrawn after Hitachi, the company behind the project, decided that the power plant was too expensive to build without a funding deal with the UK Government in place.

Energy company Horizon – a subsidiary of Hitatchi – needed an Approval of the Development Consent Order (DCO) to allow the £16bn project to go ahead.

DCOs are needed for any planning application regarded as a major UK infrastructure project and DCO process for Wylfa Newydd had been underway since 2018.

The Planning Inspectorate’s conclusion, which was made public for the first time on Thursday, was intended to be considered as a recommendation – with the final decision down to the UK Government.

But expert planning officers felt that the scheme would fail to meet some of the United Nations’ biological diversity standards.

‘Welsh language’ 

Inspectors also told UK Government ministers it had concerns over the project’s impact on the local economy, housing stock and the Welsh language.

The scheme had been expected to create 1,000 permanent skilled jobs and around another 9,000 during the construction phase – and it looked likely that most of these workers would look for accommodation on the island while the plant was being built.

The findings of the planning inspectors’ report, which were made public for the first time on Thursday, said there was a lack of scientific evidence put forward by developers to demonstrate that the Arctic and Sandwich tern populations around the Cemlyn Bay area, where the plant was set to be built, would not be disturbed by construction.

There were fears that these birds would subsequently abandon nearby Cemlyn Bay as a result.

It also raised wider concerns over the general impact on Cemlyn Bay, the Cae Gwyn site of special scientific interest and Tre’r Gof.

But while recognising the “significant positive benefits” of providing low carbon energy, jobs and training opportunities, the planned influx of many thousands of workers during the construction phase was branded problematic.

“The examining authority (ExA) concludes that there is a clear and urgent need for new low carbon energy infrastructure and that the Application could contribute to meeting this need,” the report said.

“The application would deliver a number of significant socio-economic benefits, including the delivery of a source of low carbon energy and jobs and training.

“However, the additional pressure that would be placed on accommodation within the KSA during the construction period could even with the proposed mitigation, adversely affect tourism, the local economy, health and wellbeing and Welsh language and culture.”

It went on to conclude: “Having regard to all the matters referred in this report, the ExA’s conclusion is that, on balance, the matters weighing against the proposed development outweigh the matters weighing in favour of it.

“The ExA therefore finds the case for development is not made and it recommends accordingly.”

‘Pulling the plug’ 

Before pulling the plug on the DCO application last month, Hitachi confirmed that talks had been taking place with potential new investors.

But with no concrete offer forthcoming, Hitachi announced it would wind up its Horizon Nuclear Power subsidiary by March 2021.

The island’s MP Virginia Crosbie, remains adamant that Wylfa remains “the best site in the UK for a nuclear power plant,” while lauding the potential of small modular reactor (SMR) and fusion technology.

She concluded, “Wylfa is not, by any means, off the table.

“I have been speaking – and will continue to speak with – Ministers, representatives of the nuclear industry and other stakeholders, in order to pursue my commitment to bring quality employment to the Isle of Anglesey.”

Senedd Member Rhun ap Iorwerth, added: “We have to concentrate in the immediate future on growing other employment opportunities – new projects and those already in the pipeline.

“Many are in the energy sector – offshore tidal, wave and wind, creating green jobs, developing new technologies that can be exported to the world, and bringing investment to the port of Holyhead.

“And of course, the Wylfa site itself and the skills developed there over many years remain very valuable, potentially for a smaller development that could ultimately be more sustainable for our communities.

“I’ve already spoken with potential developers. But we can’t build up hopes until we know there’s a realistic deliverable plan.”

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