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Judge gives permission for judicial review over grant of changed dredging licence for material from nuclear power station construction site

An umbrella organisation, acting for environmental groups, has secured permission for a judicial review of the Marine Management Organisation’s (MMO’s) decision to grant a changed licence for the deposit of 800,000 tonnes of dredged mud and sediment in the Severn estuary.

Tarian Hafren argues that the granting of the licence for dredging – needed to make way for a water cooling system to be constructed at the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant near to Bridgwater in Somerset – is unlawful.

The changed licence allows NNB Generation Company Ltd (HPC) to deposit the dredged material in the Severn Estuary Marine Protection Area near to a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Portbury Wharf Salt Marsh, at the Portishead disposal site.

Tarian Hafren said the dredging and dumping locations both fall within the Severn Estuary Special Area of Comservation and OSPAR Marine Protection Area.

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The claimant is challenging the variation to the dredging licence on the following grounds: 

  • The MMO did not have the statutory power to change the licence for dredging under Section 72 of the 2009 Marine and Coastal Access Act to include dumping
  • The MMO failed to give adequate reasons for changing the licence
  • The MMO failed to carry out a complete and adequate Habitats Assessment of the Severn Estuary Special Area of Conservation and the Site of Special Scientific Interest to examine the potential impact of the dredging on marine life.
  • The MMO failed to comply with regulation 22 of the Waste Regulations and in doing so ignored a less harmful method of waste disposal
  • The MMO breached the Water Framework Directive by treating the continuation of poor water quality as complying with those standards

Mrs Justice Lang ruled in the Planning Court that Tarian Hafren’s grounds for judicial review were arguable and the claim will now be heard at a hearing in 2022.

Cian Ciaran for Tarian Hafren Severn Shield Cyf said: “The Welsh National Marine Plan accepts no dumping in the Welsh half of the Estuary, but the Welsh authorities failed to press MMO to comply on the English side. As Geiger Bay, we established at Court in 2018 that the Welsh authorities were wrong to license dumping near Cardiff. Let’s now compel the MMO to respect the protected status that’s needed for both fish stocks and wildlife.

“The Hinkley report to Wales’s First Minister advised that alternative on-land cooling systems should be used, but the Welsh Government failed to press this on the MMO. Our court action is hopefully the first step in forcing the MMO to phase out this cooling water system to end the mass slaughter of fish sucked in with the seawater.”

Tarian Hafren is represented by law firm Leigh Day. Solicitor Rowan Smith said: “Our client has been clear from the outset that the MMO did not have the legal power to license the dumping of mud from Hinkley Point C in the Severn Estuary in the way that it did. The Court’s decision vindicates why this case is being brought. Our client’s aims are to uphold the Marine Protection Area’s special conservation status.”

The MMO has been approached for comment.

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