Sizewell C clears major legal hurdle over water supply

Judges have thrown out an objection that the Sizewell C nuclear power plant should not be built because of its impact on the surrounding area’s water supply, clearing the final barrier to the project’s overall planning permission.

The Supreme Court decided yesterday (13 May) that it would not hear campaign group Together Against Sizewell C’s (TASC’s) case for a judicial review of the £2bn power station project in Suffolk, ending a 21-month long legal battle.

Sizewell C managing director Julia Pyke said: “We are delighted that the claims have been comprehensively rejected in the courts and that this long-running legal action is now at an end.

“We know the majority of East Suffolk residents support our project and are looking forward to the jobs and development opportunities it will bring. We will continue to listen closely to local communities and we are as determined as ever to ensure that Sizewell C delivers for them.”

Sizewell C gained planning permission in July 2022, when former business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng granted the project a development consent order (DCO).

TASC initially sought a judicial review of the DCO in the High Court in August 2022 on eight grounds, including the scheme’s harm to the environment and lack of secure water supply. Justice Holgate refused the judicial review permission in June 2023, warning that requiring projects to demonstrate how they would supply utilities would lead to a “sclerosis in the planning system”.

He also called TASC’s claims around Sizewell’s impact on the environment “utterly hopeless”. Judge Holgate said there was “ample material” supporting Kwarteng’s assertion that the power station’s greenhouse gas emissions would not have a significant impact on the UK’s ability to meet its climate-change obligations.

The Court of Appeal agreed in September 2023 to hear the case on two of the grounds: whether Kwarteng should have treated the project’s supply of drinking water as part of his decision and, if not, whether he had failed to carry out a cumulative assessment of the new power station in relation to the region’s water supply.

Both grounds were dismissed on 20 December 2023. The Court of Appeal concluded that it was appropriate for the business secretary to defer his assessment of the scheme’s impact on water supply to a later stage.

TASC then brought the case to the Supreme Court in January 2024. But the court dismissed the case, saying the application “does not raise an arguable point of law”.

A TASC spokesperson said the group was “extremely disappointed” that the Supreme Court would not hear its case.

They added: “However, the fact remains the same – Sizewell C, which is situated in the driest drought-prone region of the country, still has no guaranteed sustainable mains water supply essential for its slated 60 years of operation, and the full environmental impacts of getting mains water to the site are yet to be assessed.”

Catherine Howard, partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, which advised Sizewell C Limited, said the ruling was a “victory for common sense”.

She said: “It confirms that a project developer need not environmentally assess all theoretical options for future water supplies (or other utilities) for a project at the time it is consented.”

The Office for Nuclear Regulation granted permission for nuclear construction works at Sizewell C last week. Earthworks have now started, Sizewell C said.

In January, the government committed £1.3bn to upgrading surrounding transport infrastructure ahead of the main build.

The new nuclear power station is set to generate 3.2GW of energy when in operation, enough to power six million households during its 60-year lifetime.

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