NAG has written to the Local Government Ombudsman to complain about the manner in which the planning application for a controversial new nuclear warhead assembly / disassembly facility at AWE Burghfield was handled by West Berkshire Council.
The application was approved by West Berkshire's Eastern Area Planning Committee on 4th March 2009 even though almost 1000 objections to the plans were received by the Council.
NAG was concerned that the decision to approve the development was made without adequate consultation, and that important planning issues relating to siting of the new facility and flood risks were not properly considered by the Planning Committee. NAG's secretary has written to West Berkshire Council to raise these concerns through the Council's own internal procedures, but as the Council seems unwilling to accept that any mistakes we intend to take the matter further.
The Local Government Ombudsman will now investigate the matter to establish whether the Council was correct in its handling of the planning application. Although NAG remains unsatisfied with the consultation arrangements adopted by the Council, we have limited our complaint to the Ombudsman to two key issues which we think are too important to be ignored: West Berkshire's failure to pro-actively consult Reading Borough Council, a neighbouring authority with an interest in the planning application, and its failure to apply government guidance on development in flood risk areas correctly.
The Ombudsman's investigations are likely to take some time, and we expect that it will take several months before a decision is reached on whether to uphold our complaint.
At the end of August NAG members met Environment Agency staff to discuss the Agency's response to the Burghfield planning application. Although we did not agree on every point, we were pleased that the Agency was willing to acknowledge our concerns and agreed to take action to address some of the issues we raised.
Groundworks are now underway to prepare the Burghfield site for construction of the assembly / disassembly facility, and a construction enclave is being built around the site to isolate it from other parts of AWE Burghfield. Construction of the facility is expected to begin early in 2010.