16 April 2024

Councillors vote to withdraw from nuclear talks

East Riding councillors have voted to withdraw from conversations about a nuclear geological disposal facility (GDF) being built in South Holderness.

At today’s full council meeting at County Hall (Wednesday, February 21), councillors voted 53-1 in favour of a motion brought by South East Holderness councillor Sean McMaster, which called on the council to withdraw from the siting process for the facility.

The motion was seconded by fellow South East Holderness ward councillor Cllr Lyn Healing.

Notably, the sole vote against was from Claire Holmes, the third South East Holderness councillor.

Nuclear Waste Services, a division of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, is seeking a suitable site for a GDF for the UK’s legacy of radioactive waste.

Last month, East Riding Council accepted an invitation from NWS to join the South Holderness GDF Working Group, which was set up to begin conversations with the local community about whether a GDF would be right for the area.

Bringing his motion to full council, Cllr McMaster said there had been an “overwhelming response” from the community since the formation of the Working Group.

He called on the council to “[use] its right of withdrawal with immediate effect, due to the strong opposition from the communities of South Holderness, as a promise was made to take the views of residents into account as the relevant principal local authority”.

Councillors voted in favour of the motion, meaning the council will now use its right of withdrawal from the GDF siting process.

There were emotional scenes outside County Hall as campaigners from the South Holderness GDF Action Group, who had carried out a peaceful demonstration ahead of the meeting, celebrated the result of the vote.

Spokeswoman Lynn Massey-Davis said: “We’ve defended our place, our homes, the countryside. We’ve defended tourism. We’ve defended our housing. We do want investment. We want to grow. We want to change. We would welcome approaches for the inward investment team to support local businesses – to support small businesses, businesses related to tourism, high-skilled businesses that fit our environment, the landscape and the people. If they want to come and work with us, we’ll really be happy to come to see them.”

Asked about the people who had come to Beverley to make their feelings known, Lynn added: “I think they’re amazing. Everybody turned out in this rain. We all got soaked! More than 70 people turned out for this and it’s been amazing.”

At the full council meeting, an “elector’s question” by local campaigner Rachel Wray preceded the motion and councillors’ vote.

She said: “There have already been reports of house sales falling through because of this. I speak on behalf of most people in South Holderness.

“We do not want nuclear waste travelling through our area to eventually be dumped under our precious land. It is a fact that the coast has been lost at an alarming rate due to coastal erosion and an area that is at high risk of flooding.

“Nuclear waste being transported to an area with infrastructure that doesn’t support this kind of project, to a place at the end of the road.

“Remember, this just doesn’t impact South Holderness. This will affect you all, and East Yorkshire, with years of disruption before it is even started. This terrifying plan contradicts the council’s own strategic plans that clearly states our area as rural, farming and tourism. We do not need this kind of investment in our area.

“Many businesses that rely on tourism will die. No one will buy holiday homes here and no one will want our crops. We know NWS approached the council last autumn and were given permission to start this process. When was this presented to the cabinet for approval? And why has full council not been informed or had any opportunity to discuss such a major long-term construction project that would severely impact the whole of East Yorkshire?”

Councillor Anne Handley, leader of East Riding Council, told the full council meeting: “The purpose of the working group was always to open a conversation with the community about whether a GDF would be right for the South Holderness area.

“The council and NWS were clear about that from the very start.

“In the past few weeks, many people within the community have made it clear that they find this idea unpalatable and do not want South Holderness to be part of the conversation.

“Many other people have attended the drop- in events curious to find out more about the long-term benefits a GDF could bring to its host community.

“Councillors have today considered all these views and decided that it is right to withdraw from this process.”

Cllr McMaster said in a statement after the vote: “I would like to thank all members of this council for their support on this issue.

“Cllr Lyn Healing and I are very pleased with the result, and I know that this feeling will be shared among the communities of Holderness.

“The strength of feeling among our residents was crystal-clear, they made their views known, and we listened.”

The UK/Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) group also welcomed the vote.

Councillor David Blackburn, chairman of the NFLA’s English Forum, said: “Speaking personally as a regular holidaymaker to Withernsea, a part of the world that I know and love, I welcome today’s news.

“It is clear that many local people also love the unique environment and community spirit of South Holderness, and this shared love brought them together to establish an effective campaign in a very short time to oppose this plan.

“I commend them all for their collective efforts and commitment, most especially Lynn Massey-Davis and Mike Davis for establishing the Facebook page and bringing people together.

“I am glad that councillors of all parties saw sense and supported this motion on a cross-party basis.

“South Holderness is an agricultural and touristic area and as such was never appropriate for consideration for a nuclear waste dump. So what I do find inexplicable is why the leader of the council ever agreed for East Riding Council to engage with the process and become a member of the working group in the first place, as a resolute no would have killed the process off at the onset, as happened at Hartlepool.”

In a statement, Nuclear Waste Services said: “We fully respect the council’s decision to withdraw from the GDF siting process. Together with the working group chair, we will now take the necessary steps to wind down the South Holderness working group and respond to outstanding requests for more information.

“Since the launch we’ve met with over 1,200 people. We would like to thank those that have given up their time to speak to us and learn more about the GDF programme.

“We will continue to engage with the other three community partnerships currently involved in the GDF siting process and will consider other communities who are interested in learning more about this vital project and the benefits and opportunities it could bring.”

Cllr Holmes, the only councillor who voted against the motion, later explained her reasoning in an extensive statement which the Gazette will publish next week.

She said: “The motion put before full council was to decide whether we ought to have an open and informed conversation about the advantages and disadvantages of the GDF scheme. I thought that the public were entitled to have that conversation.

“A vote for ‘Yes’ ended both the conversation and potential for the scheme with immediate effect.

“My vote for ‘No’ should not be interpreted as meaning I thought the GDF should go ahead. I voted ‘No’ because I value everyone’s opinion on this subject, not just those who were against the GDF.”