23 July 2024

Whole community should have their say on nuclear waste issue, says third South East Holderness ward councillor

The third South East Holderness councillor has said she believes the whole community should have their say on proposals for underground nuclear waste storage in the region.

Claire Holmes’s comments come after her two counterparts, Lyn Healing and Sean McMaster – backed by Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart – said they would put forward a motion at the next full East Riding Council meeting on February 21 for the authority to immediately withdraw from discussions.

Previously, Mr Stuart had campaigned for a referendum allowing the public to have their say.

If the motion is backed by councillors, this could have serious implications for the consultation and community engagement process led by government agency Nuclear Waste Services and its independent working group, which was expected to last a number of months.

Ms Holmes 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.”

The South Holderness GDF Action campaign group said it agreed that a “small group” of people should not be allowed to make decisions, pointing out that it had distributed about 30,000 leaflets in the area to date, and that its group on Facebook had more than 1,400 members.

Yesterday the group said it was “delighted” that Cllrs Healing and McMaster, and Mr Stuart, had realised the “strength of feeling in this area” about the proposals, adding that it would be attending the council meeting to carry out a peaceful protest.

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.

“Initially, politicians told us we had to wait while they sat on the fence – fortunately they changed their mind.

“We are remote and lack the facilities to accommodate a Geological Disposal 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.”

Although East Riding Council could not comment specifically on the motion until it was published officially, it stressed that no decisions had been made and the process had only just begun.

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 these initial conversations, 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.”

An NWS spokesman said: “Since the formation of the South Holderness GDF Working Group was recently announced, we’ve met with hundreds of local people, heard a wide range of views, and responded to many questions as the community learns about this project.

“This is a consent-based process and Government policy requires us to identify both a suitable site and a willing community. The process of selecting a suitable site could be up to 15 years, so this is a lengthy process. Any proposed site would need to be technically viable and have the informed consent of the local community.

“If after answering all their questions, and the local community decided they don’t want it, it won’t be built. We are committed to giving local people all the information they need, listening to all the voices and letting local people have their say on the topic.

“This is the start of a conversation with more events scheduled in the coming weeks. We’re keen to hear everyone’s views and will provide information on geological disposal, and the economic and social benefits it could bring to the area, so everyone can make an informed decision.”

“The council can withdraw the area from the process at any time, and the local community, following extensive engagement, would have to express explicit support for a GDF before anything could be built.

“It is for the East Riding of Yorkshire to decide when they feel that everyone’s questions have been fully answered, and the time is right to take that test of public support, which could be a referendum, a poll or some other method.”

Further drop-in sessions are being held at Easington Community Hall today (Friday, February 9) and Burstwick Village Hall on Monday, February 12, both from 11.30am to 6.30pm.