16 June 2024

I will not be supporting GDF plans, says East Riding Council leader

The leader of East Riding Council has said she has decided not to support proposals for underground nuclear waste storage in Holderness ahead of a vote on the issue by the full council next week.

Last week, South East Holderness ward councillors Lyn Healing and Sean McMaster – backed by Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart – said they would be submitting a motion to the full council when it meets on Wednesday, February 21, calling for the authority to withdraw immediately from discussions on the proposals for a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) by government agency Nuclear Waste Services.

Their motion has now been published, and asks that East Riding Council:

  1. Acknowledges that it has the right of withdrawal at any time, and there will be no cost incurred now or in the future.
  2. Uses 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.

In a statement released on Tuesday evening (February 13), Councillor Anne Handley explained how the initial discussions had come about.

She said: “We were approached by Nuclear Waste Services, the organisation tasked with finding a site for a Geological Disposal Facility to safely dispose of the UK’s legacy of radioactive waste.

“As the project could potentially have significant economic benefits for the area, we agreed to talk to NWS, treating it as an inward investment enquiry.

“As no decision was being made, it was not necessary to formally bring the matter to Cabinet or full council. However, the relevant councillors were informed at various stages of these initial conversations.

“We then accepted the invitation from Nuclear Waste Services to join a Working Group that would engage with the community and give people the chance to find out more about, make up their own mind and have their say on whether a GDF would be right for their area.

“Councillor Sean McMaster has since brought a motion to full council next Wednesday, asking for the council to withdraw from the GDF siting process.”

She added that all 67 East Riding councillors would have the opportunity to debate and vote on the motion, and confirmed that “the council will act in accordance with their wishes”.

Cllr Handley said that, having listened “carefully” to local people, she had decided not to support the plans by NWS.

She said: “As leader of the council with policy-making decisions, I have taken representation from ward councillors Cllr Sean McMaster and Cllr Lyn Healing along with the MP Graham Stuart and, importantly, local residents.

“With all of their views in mind, I am taking the decision that I will not be supporting any proposal for the disposal of nuclear waste in Holderness. As the leader of the council, I listen very carefully to residents and the decision I have taken has reflected this view.

“However, I want to make it clear that I do not condone some of the tactics used by a small minority of people, including the targeting of council officers and members of the working group.”

Lynn Massey-Davis, spokeswoman for the South Holderness GDF Action group, said they welcomed the fact that “councillors have listened to the hundreds of people who have communicated with them and the respectful if somewhat emotional tone that most residents will have used”.

She added: “Without grouping together into an action group, the impact would have been less and consent for a community partnership may well have been assumed. Instead we spoke together with one voice. This never was about one person or a small group of people but many.

“It is understandable, however, when emotions are running high and your home, family life, tourism, a small business or even the ability to enjoy wildlife or a starry sky is under threat, that people will do all that they can to protect themselves. I’m sure that officers and some members of the council would feel the same degree of hurt, anger and upset if this ‘economic opportunity for inward investment’ had presented itself in relation to the geography and geology of the Wolds or the western reaches of the county. I ask that they look with compassion and understanding on those people in Holderness who have been angry and try to walk a mile in their shoes.

“Having said that, I agree absolutely with Cllr Handley that nothing justifies attacks on individuals or their character, and briefing notes we gave to people going to the drop-ins clearly stated that respectful engagement was paramount. It is, however, important that the actions of senior officers should be open to scrutiny and challenge through democratic processes. That is what we were attempting to do, though the gradient of power was clearly against us.

“On behalf of our 1,400 members, our committee and our many active volunteers, I wish to record that we are grateful that councillors have listened and responded to our concerns. I have seen many thoughtful replies from councillors of all political colours.

“I hope most sincerely that members of the council will vote with Cllr Handley, and the leaders of opposition groups in the council, principally Cllr Healy (Liberal Democrat) and Cllr Gallant (Labour) who have both helped and advised us on how best to bring this threat to our peace, place and homes to a swift conclusion.

“Finally, I hope that we have demonstrated that the people of South Holderness have a voice and are prepared to use it if our consent is not gained before the council seeks to develop opportunities which bring no demonstrable benefit to us. I think we’ve all learned a lot from this going forward. Consent is imperative.

“I want to also thank members of the print and broadcast media for the balanced and extensive coverage of the issues and the way in this has helped our community.”