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Legal challenge to Hinkley Point C dredging impact on Severn Estuary

Tarian Hafren, acting for environmental groups, has been granted permission for judicial review of the licence for dumping almost one million tonnes of mud and sediment in the Severn estuary.

Posted on 23 December 2021

The umbrella group argues that the granting of a licence, to dump about 540,000 cubic metres (800,000 tonnes) to make way for a water cooling system to be constructed at the nuclear power plant near to Bridgwater in Somerset, is unlawful.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) changed licence for NNB Generation Company Ltd (HPC) permits the dredged material to be deposited in the Severn Estuary Marine Protection Area near to a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Portbury Wharf Salt Marsh, at the Portishead disposal site.
The dredging and dumping locations both fall within the Severn Estuary Special Area of Comservation and OSPAR Marine Protection Area, the largest coastal estuary in the UK and one of the largest estuaries in Europe. It is internationally important for fish rearing and harbours a wide diversity of significant habitats and species.
The NGO challenges 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
 High Court judge Beverley Lang ruled in the Planning Court that Tarian Hafren’s grounds for judicial review are 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 is delighted with the news that there will be full judicial scrutiny of the lawfulness of these plans. 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. We look forward to presenting our client’s arguments at a hearing to be held in Cardiff in due course.”
Rowan Smith
Climate change Environment Human rights Judicial review Planning Wildlife

Rowan Smith

Rowan Smith is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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