Hinkley C just got even more expensive

The cost of building a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset could rise by nearly £2 billion, piling more pressure on the over-stretched finances of the French energy giant EDF, according to a report seen by The Times.

An independent analysis of the £18 billion project claims that Areva, the French company that developed the EPR reactor earmarked for Hinkley, is repricing the technology before a final investment decision, which it expects to be signed by EDF and its Chinese partners in May.

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/energy-giant-is-facing-2bn-rise-in-hinkley-project-cost-cost-review-may-add-2bn-to-price-of-hinkley-project-350rcv06w
(article behind paywall)

No doubt in the repricing, there will be attempts to offload the costs elsewhere.

The next French presidential election is due in May 2017. How on earth is Hollande going to explain this away to his successor?

Straitgate Quarry update

“Campaigners are calling for a public exhibition on revised proposals for a 100-acre quarry on Ottery’s outskirts that they say could impact thousands.

A controversial application from Aggregate Industries (AI) to extract sand and gravel at Straitgate Farm met with community opposition before it was withdrawn earlier this year.

AI confirmed this week it intends to resubmit plans in April, but will not be holding any further public exhibitions – choosing instead to distribute information leaflets to householders.

Straitgate Action Group was formed to fight the proposed quarry and says that if the company will not be using the narrow Birdcage Lane as its main exit under the revised proposals, HGVs are likely to come straight out on to Exeter Road.

Member Monica Mortimer said: “We have been writing to AI to ask when they will be holding a public exhibition. If they are planning on using the one and only main road in and out of Ottery then it will impact on thousands of people all day every day. It just seems a ludicrous proposal.”

The Straitgate plan relies on a linked application to retain Blackhill Quarry, on Woodbury Common, for processing material – a site that is due to be decommissioned this year. Delays in securing the Ottery site have led to AI submitting a new application for importing reserves from Houndaller (Hillhead) Quarry, near Uffculme, to be processed approximately 26 miles away at Blackhill.

Campaigner and county councillor Claire Wright questioned the sense of transporting sand and gravel so far for processing, with the resulting impact on roads and surrounds.

John Penny, South West estates manager for AI, said that following a review, the company will be resubmitting planning proposals for Straitgate and an extension to processing at Blackhill.

He said: “This is to address concerns raised about the transport of materials. Instead of using the more rural Birdcage Lane to exit the Straitgate site, we will be proposing an alternative site entrance.

“We feel this will provide a safer way for vehicles to enter and exit the site and it shows that we are acting on feedback from the community.”

Mr Penny said the Hillhead Quarry plan would be a temporary measure that the company has applied for ‘to allow the business to maintain aggregate supplies to the Exeter and East Devon construction markets during 2016’.

The plan for Hillhead Quarry is open to consultation until April 7.”

http://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/campaigners_call_for_public_exhibition_on_revised_quarry_proposals_for_ottery_1_4470989

LEP Conflict of interest? Not when you all share the same interest it seems!

We reported that LEP member Nicholas Ames (Supacat) used to work for Serco which has been handed a lucrative LEP contract:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2016/03/12/lep-conflict-of-interest/

We also reported that Supacat is moving into the nuclear industry:

https://www.nsan.co.uk/news/supacat-ltd-expand-nuclear

Now we hear that Serco is also involved in the nuclear industry:

“A consortium including government outsourcing specialist Serco has won a new framework contract from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to manage the UK’s nuclear warheads via the Atomic Weapons Establishment through to 2025.”

http://www.hl.co.uk/shares/stock-market-news/company–news/serco-consortium-extends-uk-nuclear-deterrent-contract

Stuart Hughes is top of the (grand)pops …

For some reason, several older posts on EDW have been extraordinarily popular recently.

This one from 2015 (apparently designed to appeal to young people just before last year’s local council elections) topped our chart this week: current EDDC chairman Stuart Hughes with his take on exactly how his council approaches its planning responsibilities:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2015/05/29/new-eddc-chairman/

Anywhere … did people not understand he was totally serious?

East Devon Businesses: your chance for “expert advice” from an LEP “pop-up” cafe in Exeter

on 6 April 2016 at the Fresha Cafe, Sowton, 8am – midday:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/heart-of-the-south-west-pop-up-business-cafe-exeter-registration-22583110692

Register and then book hourly slots with experts on marketing, finance, business strategy, skills, regulation, the Hinkley supply chain or a regulation expert (presumably a maximum of four different sessions).

Of the 24 session slots on offer, so far only 2 of the marketing slots are booked – the other 22 are unbooked.

Just one question: just WHO are these “experts” and how much are they being paid to attend these events all over Devon and Somerset?

Owl would want to be sure that taking a morning off its ceaseless job of hunting vermin would be worth it.

“Healthy Cranbrook”? Not for some stressed residents

Exchange of views in town council website after a quiet, green space is suddenly changed into a children’s playpark, when residents were told it would not be built o and would remain a quiet space:

As the EDW correspondent says:
When developers lie about green spaces/parks? So much for wellbeing and health?

COMMENTS (only names of residents removed)

“Brilliant, I can’t wait to have this right outside my house (NOT!!) has anyone thought about the people that live in Hayes square??

I’m great full (sic) that we will be moving soon, will be crazy in the summer defiantly (sic) when its baby’s bedtime

moving?? I know I am dreading it, it’s gonna be teenager heaven at night!! Not looking forward to it at all

Yep! For sure the park by co op is full of chavy teenagers from 7pm have to get husband out there. I’m glad we won’t be here when it’s finished. I like it how it is

I think it’s the most stupid place to do its basically right outside my house the children have been more than happy playing out there how it its just going to bring more vandalism to the estate xx

I thought it was supposed to be a quiet park? Why have they spent all the time making it like it is if they are now changing it?

Sorry residents feel like that, also fully understand. Time for parents to stand up and make sure we and our kids do not make an amazing asset into a nightmare for those living nearby. This goes for existing park too.

Shame developers have to lie to sell houses, we were told that was going to be a nice green area where you could just go and sit and relax and read a book, never any mention of a kids play park, why do they need another one so close to the one they already have!

We got told the same.”

Not healthy to have all these people stressed, EDDC!

Devolution and LEPs – more worrying insights

” … So what is wrong with it?

That question takes us to the first problem that we would want to talk about. Who decides what will happen? Well everything is decided at central government level. In particular, and I just mentioned George Osbourne, it’s quite odd that the whole thing is being driven by the Treasury rather than the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). So it’s Osbourne’s particular baby.

The way it works is that officials from the Treasury, certainly with people from DCLG too, enter into secret bespoke discussions with whoever approaches them and say “please may I have a slice of your devolution pizza?” They say “well, OK, we’ll come and talk to you.”

These discussions have all been held behind closed doors so at best it’s a discussion between the Treasury, the Department of Communities and Local Government, the leaders of the local councils who will probably be statutorily constituted as a combined authority and the Local Enterprise Partnerships, the LEPs.

The first problem with that is where does it leave the citizens? The citizen has no say, has no seat round the table and is not party to any of these discussions, which is an odd thing because you might think in principle devolution is at least in good part about devolving power to the local citizenry. Yet here are deals being hatched that exclude the citizen’s voice. I think that’s our first problem, discussions taken in private.

So, what are Local Enterprise Partnerships and how have they become so powerful in such a short time?

LEPs were the substitutes for the Regional Development Agencies or RDAs. RDAs were abolished once the coalition took off in 2010, they were abolished over a timespan of a year or two. So LEPs are the replacement.

LEPs are not statutory bodies, so in that sense there’s no clear channels of public accountability. They are basically a group of self-selecting business people who come together on a local basis and have the power to bid to Regional Growth Funds to get money for local enterprise development. They do have governing bodies and essentially the government’s arrangement is a mix of local business people again, as I said, pretty much self-selected because it’s done on a voluntary basis and members of the combined authority. So it’s a mix of politicians and local business people who sit on the LEP governing body.

It’s not a mix that always works well. LEPs have crept into a powerful position and sometimes central government will say certain things may be permissible at local level, for example increasing the business rate by 2%, but only if the LEP agrees. So LEPs are accreting little bits of power here and there even though they have no statutory basis for exercising their powers.

I guess most people will not have heard of LEPs. They are fairly shadowy and it would be fair to argue that if they’re going to exercise an increasing range of powers, they should be put on a statutory basis and there should be proper accountability to local people.

I thought it was fascinating in your article when you mentioned that Local Enterprise Partnerships resisted any examination of what they were doing on the grounds that it might “scare business”. That’s just extraordinary.

I would guess any self-respecting LEP is feeling a little bit awkward itself about all of this. LEPs are not statutory. They’re not accountable in any way to people living in a local area. They’re run on a shoestring, yet here they are having quite a significant voice round the table. That will be one of their concerns, that we need to talk about these things privately. This is part of what I’ve been calling the ‘democratic deficit’.

The second thing that perturbs me a lot about this is that as well as having private discussions that exclude the people, the government then goes on to require a form of governance that they prefer and which people have no choice over. I’m referring here to the requirement in the Act of Parliament now, that in order to get a deal, most places (the South West might be an exception because of its geography) must have a directly elected Mayor.

Take where I live: I’m up here in the North East. We will have one person whose remit will run from the Scottish Borders right down to the Tees Valley. It’s a vast area. One person running a swathe of important public affairs, and no-one’s been asked if they would like that model. It’s completely unclear where it leaves thousands and thousands of local councillors whose services will probably no longer be required.

What does this tell us about localism and the Big Society and all of that stuff that was very much heralded at the beginning of this government?

It was going to give all this power back to local people and so on and so on. Now that we’re a few years into it and we’re starting to be able to see what it actually looks like, what do you think it tells us about the motivation behind it? Who are they doing it for?

My view of the Big Society is that it was simply an attempt to cut costs and transfer services out to the third sector but without the necessary funding to accompany that transfer. You don’t hear a lot of talk these days about the Big Society, do you? So where are we left with this?

We’re left with councils cut to the bone and the suspicion through the whole devolution policy that what the government wants to do is transfer responsibility for funding and public spending cuts to a more local level. Regional, sub-regional, currently it’s with the local councils. That’s probably best not described as devolution. It’s best described as delegation of responsibility for funding. It can even apply to the NHS, in particular in Greater Manchester, which so far is the only devolution deal which has involved fairly clear agreement to take on responsibility for NHS services.

There are some very important and worrying questions being raised by all of this. What we’re slowly doing is taking the national out of a lot of services that have been national and making them local. In principle it has some attractions but in the current economic and political climate, I’d be very worried about taking responsibilities on when the funding was disappearing.

A lot of this stuff is being justified on the grounds of economic growth. What do you think we run the risk of sacrificing in our desperate attempt to achieve economic growth?

If there’s one implicit objective of the devolution deal, it’s the idea that it will spur economic growth. This is George Osborne’s real focus. You devolve to core cities and through devolving some powers over transport and regeneration you get the benefit of agglomeration. That may well work in certain geographies but even if you did get more growth – I think it’s a bit unclear exactly why you would – but even if you did, more regional growth is one thing. How you use the proceeds of that is another.

If you take the Northern Powerhouse as the most frequently cited example, it may well be good for Manchester, maybe even for Leeds, but once you get out into the rural areas and the older industrial areas, it’s not easy to see how this will be of benefit in these wider geographies. It’s a question about the type of growth and the proceeds of growth as well as whether you get the growth at all.

If people read your article and feel like something very valuable, something very precious is either slipping through their fingers or being wrenched from their grasp depending on which way they look at it, what can they do about it?

That’s a good question, isn’t it? We’re looking at a whole range of different ‘devo deals’. What the Chancellor did late last year was to invite local areas, regions and sub regions to put in a bid for a deal, and they were given seven weeks to do it. Seven weeks. Thirty eight such bids were received. Most of them were not considered strong enough to take forward, so we only have about half a dozen that are currently going forward.

I guess you could stop these deals in their tracks if one or more local councils who were in the combined authority said “we don’t think this is a good deal, sorry, we’re pulling out. We just don’t want to go ahead with it.” You would then suffer a loss of course, because you would be seen as a poor team player. There are more powers coming along, even if these are delegated powers, and there’s a bit of money at stake. Always follow the money! Council spending is being crucified.

But as part of the devo deals, the Treasury comes along and says “if you sign a deal on our terms, we will give you x amount of money.” My own area, the North East is pretty typical. The deal up here with the North East Combined Authority is £30 million per year for 30 years. Incidentally, I have never known a political pledge that was ever honoured over 30 years! But that’s the deal on offer.”

https://www.transitionnetwork.org/blogs/rob-hopkins/2016-03/bob-hudson-devolution-there-are-some-very-worrying-questions-being-raised-