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Nuclear store fall-out: Could west Cumbrian councils merge?

Politicians have hinted that the veto of plans for an underground nuclear waste site in west Cumbria may have brought the county to a political crossroads that could result in a merger of Copeland and Allerdale councils.

Eddie Martin photo
Eddie Martin

Some senior Cumbrian councillors are now openly speculating about a possible new unitary authority.

The MP for Copeland Jamie Reed has reacted by hinting that the two west Cumbrian councils, which both backed further investigations to see if the area’s geology was suitable for an underground repository, may well join forces.

Meanwhile, Allerdale and Copeland council leaders have written a letter to the Energy Secretary Ed Davy, seeking an urgent meeting.

As the political dust from the bruising political debate settled, senior politicians spoke of the huge pressure they faced as they prepared for this week’s historic vote.

The county council’s cabinet voted by 7 votes to 3 to halt the process to identify a suitable repository site. Had the £12bn facility been built, it would have housed nuclear waste from across the UK for thousands of years.

County council leader Eddie Martin, who represents Dearham and Broughton, defended the veto decision, saying there just were too many uncertainties with the repository plan.

“We had literally thousands of emails, letters, and telephone calls,” he said.

“There were arguments both ways, but they were roughly about 20-1 against going forward with the process.

“We had more than 30,000 signatures on petitions, and they were predominantly against. Interestingly, I have had several emails from Sellafield workers who urged us not to continue with the process.”

Mr Martin said he supports the nuclear industry, but he called for greater Government efforts to grow and diversify Copeland’s economy.

A long-time supporter of unitary local authorities, he suggested Copeland and Allerdale may choose that path as a means to achieve their goal of further exploring the repository idea but he stressed that such a change would not mean he could support the plan.

He said the issue should have been decided by a Cumbria wide referendum.

“If we can have a referendum to elect a police commissioner, how much more important was this issue: it was a decision of enormous magnitude, affecting all the people of Cumbria and future generations,” he added.

“But at the end of the day, you want to do what’s right for the people of Cumbria and for future generations.

Councillor Liz Mallinson from Carlisle said: “I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of emails – at least 70 and 80 a day, from all over the world as well as Cumbria.

“Some could be construed as threatening in the way they were presented, but you have to draw a line under that.”

Mrs Mallinson said the cabinet had listened to the views of the whole of Cumbria, not just Copeland, and most people did not want an underground repository the size of Carlisle built in the area.

She added: “For Jamie Reed to try to get it in by another method does no favours for democracy at all. It sends out the wrong message.”

Mr Reed, who has vowed to continue fighting for the repository process to continue, said: “It’s very interesting that Eddie Martin is now choosing to raise this debate [about the county’s local authority structure].

“The reality is any process to deal with radioactive waste is likely to outlive the county’s current local government structures because of the financial pressures they are now facing.

“They’re already talking about a Copeland Allerdale merger. We are definitely at a fork in the road.

“As for Liz Mallinson’s comments, I have a lot of respect for her but the overwhelming democratic will of the people of Copeland is to discover whether the geology is suitable for a radioactive waste repository.”


Cumbria County Council’s cabinet voted by 7-3 to withdraw from the selection process.

Those voting to pull out were Conservatives and council leader Eddie Martin (Dearham & Broughton), Tony Markley (Solway Coast), Liz Mallinson (Carlisle Stanwix Urban), Duncan Fairbairn (Bowness, Thursby & Caldbeck), James Airey (Ulverston West) and Gary Strong (Penrith Rural).

Labour’s Stewart Young (deputy council leader and Carlisle Upperby) voted with them.

Tim Knowles (Cleator Moor North & Frizington), the cabinet member with responsibility for the nuclear industry and fellow Labour councillor Anne Burns (Barrow Hindpool) voted to stay in, as did Independent Oliver Pearson (Old Barrow).

Allerdale council’s cabinet voted 5-2 in favour of moving forward to phase four.

Councillor Michael Heaslip (St John’s, Workington) proposed agreeing to move to stage four. Council leader Alan Smith seconded the motion to go forward to stage four.

The other yes votes came from Barbara Cannon (deputy council leader and Moss Bay, Workington), Mark Fryer (Stainburn, Workington) and Carni McCarron-Holmes (Ewanrigg, Maryport), with Philip Tibble (Clifton) and Carl Holding (St Michael’s, Workington) voting against.

Copeland council’s cabinet voted 6-1 in favour of moving forward to phase four. Only Hugh Branney – who represents Cleator Moor North – spoke out against the proposal.

Yes votes came from council leader Elaine Woodburn, John Bowman (Distington), George Clements (Kells, Whitehaven), Phil Greatorex (Bransty, Whitehaven), Allan Holliday (Kells, Whitehaven) and Gillian Troughton (Bransty, Whitehaven).

Have your say

For those who have not yet woken and smelled the coffee. It is not an issue about the benefits that Sellafield has brought to the area historically nor of those it might yet bring, nor of those it promised in the early fifteies that never happened. Of course, people want and need jobs. Nuclear power is clean; it is possible to mass produce it fairly easil;it does not blight the whole of the country only those areas that have to put up with a nuclear station; it is powerful; it is probably less expensive than relying upon hideous unproductive windfarms which benefit nobody but the energy companies and the farmers who either sell their land or lease it.But for goodness sake, it produces a highly toxic, highly poisonous bi-product called low and high level radiation waste about which neither the political classes nor the industry had any idea how they would manage it from the outset seven decades ago. Whether you want or need a job at Sellafield, you can't argue that wasn't particularly clever. So can we please have a sensible objective debate about this without the divisiveness that Jamie Reed and Elaine Woodburn are using as a strategy for further action?

Posted by joeblogger on 8 February 2013 at 18:10

yea sounds like a good idea then you can cut jobs for the council rather than eny one else lose a job hey yous are the ones banging on about saveing the cash point proved !!!!!!!!!!

Posted by chris on 7 February 2013 at 11:19

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