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When Hinkley C got the go ahead, all sorts of conditions were imposed to provide environmental protection. Among these was what amounts to an underwater loudspeaker. This ‘Acoustic Fish Deterrent’ (AFD) was to be placed in front of the pipes taking water from the sea to cool the power station. The idea was to stop fish swimming into the pipes and meeting an untimely end in the process.
Like all good developers, NNB Generation Company (HPC) Limited the company actually developing and building the nuclear power station for EdF, were perfectly happy at the time (2013). To the layman, it often appears that the general tactic with these largescale projects is ” agree to everything – then contest it afterwards”. Not unlike developers who agree that a percentage of a development can be set aside for affordable housing and then come back saying “terribly sorry, we can’t afford it”.
ln 2019 Hinkley ran a consultation on the issue. They claim that while impact of the AFDs on the volume of fish taken in through the pipes would be negligible, the AFDs posed a risk to divers who would have to maintain the system in waters which are notoriously treacherous. There is poor visibility in the water in this area and one of the highest tidal ranges in the world. ln a statement to The Leveller an EdF spokesperson told us “Hinkley Point C is the first power station in the Severn Estuary to include fish protection measures in its design and the acoustic fish deterrent is just one of three planned measures to protect marine life. Studies from Government marine experts showed that removing it would have a negligible impact on local fish populations.”
ln short, HPC asked the Environment Agency to vary the permit they had to go with the planning permission, so that they did not have to install the AFD. The EA determines these applications in the first instance. With a pandemic raging, this was never going to be quick. However having shared their initial findings with HPC, The EA were told that HPC considered it likely they would be refused. And in the absence of a final decision, but assuming it would not go in their favour, they appealed the case to The Secretary of State on 24 September.
Following that appeal, the Planning lnspectorate in Bristol was told to initiate a public inquiry into the issues around the request from HPC. This is a device that effectively bypasses the EA.
They are now reduced to submitting evidence to the lnquiry, but the decision will now be made by a Planning lnspector instead of the EA. The EdF spokesperson told us “The project remains committed to reducing the environmental impact from the construction of a power station which will play a key role in fighting climate change and boosting the Somerset economy.”
The lnquiry will take place during the weeks starting 7 and 14 June 2021. The Planning lnspectorate has decided that the hearing will be held publicly, which means anyone is welcome to attend. It will be held online, but details of the platform to be used, the timings of sessions, or how to dial in are not available yet.
The Leveller@ says: What price then the Government’s environmental credentials? We receive almost daily updates in Parliament from Rebecco Pow and others at the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs. Yet faced with a major developer seeking to cut costs on a project that is already significantly over budget, environmental enforcement is thrown under a bus and the issue reduced to planning regulations.