The Irish equivalent of the National Trust has failed in a High Court bid to quash development permission granted for a new nuclear power station on the west coast of England. An Taisce had challenged the decision of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to open the way for the controversial project at Hinkley Point in Somerset – around 150 miles from Ireland.
The body had argued that there was an unlawful failure to undertake ‘trans-boundary consultation’ with the Irish authorities as required by the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. However, the Secretary of State submitted that such consultation was unnecessary due to the very detailed screening process that had been performed before approval was granted.
As part of that process, a detailed environmental statement had been considered and the possibility of nuclear accidents – which were agreed to be unlikely – had been fully taken into account. The Office of Nuclear Regulation would also play an on-going role in licensing the plant.
The Secretary of State submitted that, on a correct interpretation of the Directive, trans-boundary consultation was only required where there was a ‘real risk’ or ‘serious possibility’ of significant environmental effects arising and not where there was a bare possibility.
The Court rejected An Taisce's plea that the Secretary of State had misdirected himself as to the meaning of the Directive in considering only effects arising from the ordinary regulated operation of the plant and not ‘unlikely’, but nevertheless possible, impacts from other scenarios.
Also rejected were arguments that the Secretary of State had failed to comply with the Directive by omitting to take into account the possibility that the plant would have unplanned or accidental effects on the environment. Opinions from a variety of expert sources provided a sound and rational basis for the Secretary of State’s decision and he had had sufficient information before him to amount to a comprehensive assessment for the purposes of the Directive.