The controversial plans for a new ‘garden city’ in Grazeley have received another heavy blow, after developers lost a legal battle in the High Court.
A site about a mile from AWE Burghfield had been set aside for 15,000 new homes, but the project faced a series of setbacks.
Last March, the West Berkshire Council extended the Detailed Contingency Planning Zone (DEPZ) around the plant and now covers this site.
Anyone in the area can be affected by a “reasonably foreseeable” radiation emergency and the Department of Defense (MOD) says it is not safe to build thousands of homes there as it would be “difficult. »Evacuate or shelter all residents promptly during a radiological emergency.
Three companies – Crest Nicholson, Hallam Land Management and Wilson Enterprises Limited – sued the council and challenged its decision to extend DEPZ through judicial review.
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They claimed that the board failed to provide sufficient reasons for the decision and that oversight of the decision-making process was “deficient”.
But High Court Judge Madam Justice Thornton ruled in favor of the council, concluding that it was compelled to expand the area and that the decision was based on a “highly technical scientific predictive assessment” which been conducted correctly by nuclear experts.
“She also declined to disclose this assessment to developers due to concerns about the ‘national security implications’.
The judge’s ruling states: “The applicants’ case fails to address properly, or not at all, the true public safety importance of the nomination process.
“It also does not show an adequate understanding of the national security issues arising from the information underlying the decision.
“The claim is motivated entirely by the private property interests of the claimants in the development of its site.”
He adds: “The extension (of the DEPZ) covers a large part of the 700 hectares of land belonging to the applicants and previously reserved for the development of 15,000 housing units.”
Why has the West Berkshire Council expanded the area?
In 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan was struck by a powerful earthquake that caused the reactors to melt and everyone within a 20 km radius of the plant had to be evacuated.
This prompted the UK government to introduce new legislation – known as the Radiation Emergency Preparedness and Public Information Regulations (REPPIR) 2019 – which required every organization working with nuclear material to review its contingency plans using a new framework. .
After the Atomic Weapons Establishment, which manages AWE Burghfield, carried out this detailed examination, it produced a consequence report which stated that the DEPZ radius around the plant should be increased from 1,600 meters to 3,160 meters.
This recommendation has been carefully assessed and approved by Public Health England and the Office for Nuclear Regulation.
According to the Ministry of Defense, the DEPZ was extended “due to changes in the assessment and assessment required under REPPIR 2019, and not due to changes in the inventory of materials or in operations to AWE Burghfield ”.
The West Berkshire Council was legally bound to accept this recommendation and extend DEPZ when it prepared its offsite contingency plan for the plant.
Will the 15,000-house project be abandoned?
After the judge confirmed that the council’s decision to extend the DEPZ was legal and appropriate, one thing is clear: the DEPZ will remain in place for a period of time.
Although there is no rule that explicitly states that you cannot build houses in a DEPZ, the MOD states that it will not be safe to build thousands of houses in that area.
The MOD wrote an eight-page objection letter which also states that the project could “restrict operations” and the nuclear weapons plant and that this “could have a negative impact on the security of the nation.”
It is also very unlikely that the project will start without the support and planning permission of the relevant councils.
The West Berkshire Council, Wokingham Borough Council and Reading Borough Council had worked with developers to prepare plans for this Grazeley garden village, allocate land and secure funds for infrastructure.
But the West Berkshire Council dropped the project, after extending the DEPZ and the government rejected a £ 252million offer for infrastructure funding in 2020.
Wokingham City Council, which ran the 15,000-house project, has yet to abandon it. But the council said it was “now looking for alternatives.”
Reading Borough Council has not stepped down, but says the project “cannot be done at this time” without the support of the other two councils.
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