Boundary Hall development at AWE: Inspector says no, Minister says yes

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The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, has decided to grant planning permission for the controversial 'Boundary Hall' housing development in Tadley, ignoring advice from the independent inspector at last year's planning inquiry into the development.

Planning Inspector Phillip Ware recommended that planning permission for the development at the Boundary Hall site, which is within sight of the perimeter fence of the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, should be refused following an appeal against a the development led by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is responsible for overseeing emergency planning arrangements around nuclear establishments.

The inspector concluded that HSE's advice against allowing the development to go ahead was justified, and that controls on development intended to limit the size of the population at risk in the event of an accident at AWE had already been breached – a situation which would be worsened if the Boundary Hall development went ahead.  He concluded that “there was no clear definition of the likelihood of an off-site event occurring”, raising questions about the basis on which emergency plans for nuclear installations are prepared.

The Secretary of State accepted that it was essential to consider the possibility of future accidents at AWE Aldermaston when deciding whether the development should be permitted, but decided that criteria on population limits around nuclear sites was “intended to be used only for guidance”.  As the “sole objection” to the development related to the potential impact on human health of a harmful radiation dose following the “extremely remote” chance of an accident at AWE Aldermaston, the advantages of building housing on the site outweighed this risk.

Nuclear Information Service director Peter Burt said: “It's always a cause for concern when politicians decide to ignore the considered advice of independent experts who are appointed to advise them.

“We have seen that an unforseen accident led to a severe nuclear emergency at Fukushima in Japan, and that emergency planning arrangements were inadequate to deal with the consequences of the disaster.  

“However, it appears that the Mr Pickles has decided that such a situation could never happen at AWE Aldermaston.

“Only last week AWE managers stated clearly that there was no room for complacency on safety matters at Aldermaston following last year's fire.  This message doesn't seem to have reached the ears of Ministers.”

Download the decision notice for the Boundary Hall development and the Planning Inspector's report here: