SIR Keir Starmer was full of praise for workers at Hinkley Point C this morning but accused the government of “holding our country back” after delays to the project.

The Labour leader met with some of Hinkley's apprentices during his first visit to the nuclear construction site near Bridgwater

He then took part in a wide-ranging Q&A session with workers in the shadow of Big Carl, the world's largest land-based crane. 

The discussion covered the future of nuclear power, energy security, childcare support, trade union rights and GP waiting times. 

“This morning has been fantastic; walking around the site, seeing the future of nuclear power here at Hinkley Point C,” he said.

Bridgwater Mercury: Sir Keir Starmer speaks to two nurses from Hinkley Health during today's Q&A.Sir Keir Starmer speaks to two nurses from Hinkley Health during today's Q&A. (Image: Newsquest)

“I’m talking to the staff and the people who work here – highly skilled, highly motivated, absolutely determined to deliver the energy for the future.

“Nuclear will be part of the energy mix as we forward. It will be nuclear – and new nuclear – and renewables.

“Locked up in that is cheaper bills, independence so that Putin can’t put his foot on our throat ever again, lower cost, and skills and jobs of the future, and I’ve had lots of questions from staff about delivery of this project.”

However, he criticised a government pattern of “dither and delay” on issues ranging from nuclear power to small boat crossings.

He had earlier accused the Conservatives of a “shambolic” failure to open any nuclear power plants during their 13 years in government. 

In October 2013, it was reported that the first Hinkley Point C reactor was expected to be operational in 2023. 

The site is now expected to start producing power in June 2027.

Bridgwater Mercury: Sir Keir Starmer speaks to the media at Hinkley Point C.Sir Keir Starmer speaks to the media at Hinkley Point C. (Image: Newsquest)

Sir Keir said: “There is a frustration that we’ve got a government that yet again is holding our country back, because this project should have been delivered by now.

“But like so many projects under this government, it’s behind time because they’ve not had enough strategic thinking, enough stability, and the dither and delay in the end is costing time and jobs.

He added: “It’s not because of the workforce. They’re fantastically motivated, incredibly skilled.

“They want to deliver on this project. They feel passionately that there’s 100 years of our future locked up here.”

Responding to Labour’s nuclear criticisms, a Conservative spokesperson said: “In 1997 the Labour Party cut the legs off Britain’s nuclear industry declaring ‘no new nuclear’, nationalising British Energy and handing our energy dependency to China and France.

“That’s why there hasn’t been a nuclear power station built under the Labour Party since Britain had the shilling.

“The Conservatives started turning that around, delivering the first large-scale nuclear project Hinkley Point C and agreeing last year to begin Sizewell C.”

The leader of the opposition was also asked about claims that Jaguar Land Rover-owner Tata is expected to finalise a deal to build a multi-billion-pound electric car battery plant at the Gravity smart campus near Bridgwater. 

Sir Keir said: “I support that. It’s an important part of our future, so nuclear and renewables will go up alongside each other.

“We’ve already set out our plans for GB Energy, which is a publicly owned company that will drive forward renewables and ensure that we’ve got the skills, the initiative and the strategy to get this over the line.

"I think it’s really good for the area. It will draw in the skills across the area.

“This is good news as long as it’s delivered, but it will only be delivered with a strategic plan and a vehicle – GB Energy, in my view.”

Hinkley Point C is under construction by EDF. The two reactors will provide zero-carbon electricity for around six million homes.