THE environmental impact of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station will be the subject of a planning inquiry which could be held in the next 18 months.

Around 11,000 people are currently working at the Hinkley Point C construction site near Stogursey, with this number expected to rise to 12,000 in the coming months.

EDF Energy secured planning consent for the power station back in 2013, with construction beginning three years later – a consent which includes a number of measures to offset the environmental impact of the new facility.

The company is seeking to make a number of changes to the agreed measures, which will require the approval of the Planning Inspectorate – resulting in a new public inquiry where residents can have their say.

Bridgwater Mercury: Project 'dome lift' at Hinkley Point C.Project 'dome lift' at Hinkley Point C. (Image: EDF/Hinkley Point C)

The new inquiry was confirmed in a recent report by Councillor Ros Wyke, Somerset Council’s portfolio holder for economic development, planning and assets.

She said: “EDF Energy is proposing to make some material (and non-material) changes to the development consent order (DCO) for the Hinkley Point C project.

“As a DCO, any material changes will need to be authorised by the relevant secretary of state.

“EDF Energy expect to submit proposals to the secretary of state in the spring of 2025.

“This is likely to result in a public examination, which would begin by the autumn of 2025.”

DCOs are detailed planning consents which are issued by central government for major infrastructure projects, such as the dualling of the A303 between Podimore and Sparkford.

EDF is proposing to make the following changes to the current DCO:

  • Removing the need to install an acoustic fish deterrent in the Bristol Channel
  • Providing ecological mitigation to counter the potential loss of fish stocks from this deterrent – taking the form of new saltmarshes near the River Parrett
  • Changing the agreed interim spent fuel store from a wet store to a larger dry store
  • Replacing the access control building with a new equipment storage building
  • Relocating and redesigning the site’s meteorological mast
  • Retaining the existing temporary electricity substation as a permanent feature, providing power to the Hinkley Point A and B facilities
  • Erecting four new storage structures to house sluice gates and lifting beams

EDF held an initial round of public consultation in January and February over its proposals for new saltmarshes on the Pawlett Hams, which lie on the bank of the River Parrett near the villages of Combwich and Pawlett.

The plans will see the creation of more than 800 acres of saltmarsh, providing new habitats for fish and animals, improving water quality and reducing the risk of localised flooding – complementing the creation of the Bridgwater tidal barrier immediately upstream.

Bridgwater Mercury: The site of possible saltmarshes near Combwich, seen from the River Parrett trail.The site of possible saltmarshes near Combwich, seen from the River Parrett trail. (Image: Daniel Mumby)

The proposals will be in addition to other measures in the Bristol Channel to offset the power station’s impact, including the planting of seagrass and kelp, developing native oyster beds and removing weirs on three rivers to help migrating fish to reach their breeding grounds.

Chris Fayers, head of environment at the Hinkley Point C project, stated in January: “The new wetland would be a fantastic place for wildlife and a beautiful place to visit.

“Using natural and proven ways to improve the environment is better than creating 60 years of noise pollution with a system that is untested far offshore in the fast-flowing waters of the River Severn.”

Under the new general election boundaries, Hinkley Point C will lie within the Tiverton and Minehead constituency, while the proposed saltmarshes will be within the neighbouring Bridgwater seat.

Councillor Leigh Redman, who is standing for Labour in the new Bridgwater constituency, said that he had serious concerns about the saltmarshes proposal, including how effective it would be given the other environmental factors at play.

Mr Redman (who represents the Bridgwater North and Central division on the council) said: “The Bristol Channel and Severn estuary are hugely important habitats for species including salmon and eel.

“According to the government’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, between 18 and 46 tonnes of fish could be lost a year if the acoustic fish deterrent plan is abandoned.

“Saltmarshes are vulnerable to erosion caused by factors, such as stormy conditions, wave action, and human activities, particularly in this area of the tidal River Parrett.

“This erosion can lead to habitat loss and a decrease in the protective function of the marsh against flooding and coastal erosion.

“I really do feel that we must listen to local people that know their area.

“I feel that this particular element of the mitigation needs much more thought before any decision can be made, particularly in this area of the Parrett.”

Councillor Claire Sully – who is standing for the Liberal Democrats in the same constituency – has been fighting against the new saltmarshes as part of the Save Pawlett Hams campaign.

Bridgwater Mercury: The Save Pawlett Hams action group.The Save Pawlett Hams action group. (Image: Claire Sully)

The action group held a ‘Run the Hams’ event on Sunday (May 5) to raise awareness of the issues, following a ‘Rock the Hams’ concerns held at Pawlett Pavilion at the end of April.

Ms Sully – who represents the Mendip South division on the council – claimed that the new nature reserve would cost up to £50m to deliver, arguing the acoustic fish deterrent was “essential” to preventing damage to the Severn estuary.

She said: “EDF’s saltmarsh proposal could affect part of the Somerset Levels, where Saxon king Alfred the Great is said to have hidden from the Vikings.

“Pawlett Hams is well known in aquatic beetle circles and the EDF proposals would certainly lead to a serious diminishing of freshwater aquatic biodiversity for little seeming biodiversity gain, and a huge loss of fish from the Severn estuary.

“Other wildlife that could be lost include great crested newts, water voles in the ditches, and hares.”

The Planning Inspectorate will confirm the precise dates of the public inquiry once EDF has formally submitted its plans to alter the DCO for the power station.

Hinkley Point C is currently expected to be operational by 2031, following EDF’s announcement in January 2023 that it would not meet its then-target date of 2027.