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Marine Management Organisation defends High Court challenge to variation of dredging licence for nuclear power station works

A judge has dismissed a judicial review challenge to a licence variation connected to the Hinkley Point nuclear power station project, branding some grounds argued as “hopeless" and having “no merit”.

The case was brought against the Marine Management Organisation by Tarian Hafren Severn Shield CYF - a group of scientists, organisations and individuals opposed to the disposal of material dredged from the Severn Estuary as part of the Hinkley Point C project back into the Severn because of concerns about radioactivity.

James Strachan QC and Victoria Hutton of 39 Essex Chambers, who represented interested party NNB Generation Company, said: “One of the main issues in the case was whether the power to vary a marine license under s72 of the Marine and Coastal Activities Act 2009 can be used to authorise an ‘activity’ not already included within the licence of which variation is being sought.”

They said the claimant argued that because the underlying licence and its subsequent variations only authorised dredging the power to vary the licence could not be used to add the disposal of that dredged material.

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The court held that the power to vary a licence can properly be used to introduce a new activity where it can be said to represent a variation of the existing licence in its current form.

This applied in this case as it was a condition of the development consent order for Hinkley Point that the dredged material was to be disposed of within the Severn Estuary.

In Tarian Hafren Severn Shield Cyf, R (On the Application Of) v Marine Management Organisation [2022] EWHC 683 (Admin) Mr. Justice Holgate said that the contention the licence could not be varied in this way was wrong as what was done “did not go beyond the ambit of that which could lawfully be considered and approved”.

He said an argument that the MMO could only vary a condition with a relevant reason for doing so failed and “it is plain from the material before the court that the MMO did lawfully consider that the licence ought to be varied for reasons that appeared to the authority to be relevant”.

The judge dismissed as “hopeless” the idea that the MMO failed to comply with regulation 22 of the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 and said there was “no merit” in an argument that it failed to comply with the Water Framework Directive.

Mark Smulian

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