East Riding Council has issued a statement after Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart backed a call by two South East Holderness ward councillors for the authority to immediately withdraw from talks on siting a Geological Disposal Facility in the region.
Government agency Nuclear Waste Services was given permission by East Riding Council’s inward investment arm to start a “conversation” with residents about building a GDF in the area.
Invest East Yorkshire is listed as an “interested party” on a seven-member working group set up to scope opinion on the proposals.
Mr Stuart, the climate minister, had previously campaigned for a referendum that would allow residents to vote on the proposals. However, following discussions with Cllrs Lyn Healing and Sean McMaster, he said he was now supporting their efforts to stop the GDF.
He said: “South Holderness is a special place, and the news that the area was being considered as the site for the UK’s GDF shocked many in our community.
“It is the people of Holderness who should determine what happens in their area and they have made clear their opposition to these plans.
“Now our excellent South East Holderness councillors, Lyn Healing and Sean McMaster, have put a motion to the council recommending that it withdraws our area from the process.
“They have my full support. Lyn and Sean work flat-out on behalf of local people and listen to their views. Our community says ‘No’ and Lyn and Sean have my backing to seek our withdrawal.”
Cllr Lyn Healing said: “Cabinet or ward councillors did not vote on this. In fact we were unaware at the onset and no votes are required this early on in a conversation.
“As you’ll be aware NWS has held various drop-in events throughout Holderness to have those conversations with residents and a large number of residents did attend.
“While we found the drop-ins helpful and informative and, I believe, others did too, we came away with mixed feelings. Yes, investment in Holderness is badly required – but is this the right investment? We now believe it isn’t.
“Holderness is a beautiful rural, agricultural area, farming has existed here for hundreds of years and hopefully will continue for hundreds more.
“Tourism is also prevalent to our area and we feel a project of this scale would most certainly have an adverse effect on both.
“Having said that, we have experienced an already creeping industrialisation of the area over the years. wind farms, the biomass plant at Aldbrough, Saltend, an extension at the Easington terminal, and now this.
“We have listened to our residents too and the majority do not want a GDF in Holderness. We support them in their opposition and that is why ward councillor Sean McMaster and myself will be submitting a motion to the full council on February 21, requesting East Riding Council withdraw from these conversations.
“A vote from all councillors will be needed for this to happen, but we are confident we will have a councillors from all wards supporting us.”
Claire Watts, director of economic development at East Riding Council, said: “We recognise and understand the concerns raised among the South Holderness community since the GDF working group was launched last month.
“To clarify, the council has not given permission or support for anything other than for Nuclear Waste Services and the working group to engage with local people.
“The council was approached by NWS, which is seeking a site for a Geological Disposal Facility in the UK. This enquiry was passed to our inward investment team, Invest East Yorkshire, which handles all enquiries from developers and businesses seeking suitable sites and premises for investment projects.
“After this initial enquiry, the council accepted an invitation from NWS to join the South Holderness GDF Working Group. This allows the community to find out what a GDF is and to explore the potential benefits it could bring to the area. It also gives people the opportunity share their views.
“This is the start of the discussion and no decisions have been made. The GDF siting process is consent-based, meaning if the community does not express support for a GDF, it will not be built there.
The South Holderness GDF Action campaign group said it was “delighted” that the local councillors and Mr Stuart realised the “strength of feeling in this area” about the proposals.
Spokeswoman Lynn Massey-Davis said: “I’m really proud that we started this group and website and that other people joined in and worked so very hard over such a short period of time to turn the tide of opinion towards considering removing this threat to us all. This is an unprecedented level of community action in such a small place and shows why we are unique and special.
“We are remote and lack the facilities to accommodate a geological disposal of facility. It would’ve seen a massive change, making our rural quiet landscape become a busy industrial one and killing our tourism industry dead and harming, if not ending, the myriad small businesses which depend on it.
“The group will be attending County Hall for the full council meeting on February 21 when the council will vote hopefully for a notice to withdraw the scheme. There will be a lot of us, we will be peaceful, but we will let them know very clearly what we want to happen – take this awful burden away from us, please.”
Claire Holmes, who is the third South East Holderness councillor, later told the Gazette: “As a local mum, I feel we all have a duty to protect our environment for future generations. My initial feeling is that I cannot see how the benefits of this scheme could ever outweigh the sacrifice required.
“However, the consequences of this decision either way will be felt for generations and the decision will be irreversible. It is for precisely this reason that the issue is too important to be decided by the view of one person or even a small group of people.
“I am in support of allowing the community as a whole to decide this issue including our young people. There is the potential for huge investment in our area with better transport links and jobs.
“As a councillor I feel I have a duty to ensure that points of view on both sides are listened to which requires a respectful and fully informed debate and if necessary a referendum on the issue.”