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Press Release: Anti-nuclear campaigners cheer local councillors

Anti-nuclear campaigners cheered local West Berkshire councillors last night, as the West Berkshire Eastern Area Planning Committee voted to defer a decision on whether to support the Atomic Weapons Establishment's full planning notice (1) for the controversial Orion laser facility (2).

The catalyst for the proposal to defer was the lack of adherence to agreed procedure, with not all councillors having received vital environmental information relating to the development in advance of the meeting. (3)

During the planning hearing, councillors asserted that the Ministry of Defence were effectivley wasting the committee's time by not providing them with the information necessary to make a decision.

Commenting on the outcome of the meeting, a representative of Aldermaston Women's Peace Camp(aign) said: "Obviously we are pleased that the decision has been deferred for now. Any developments which facilitate the development or maintenance of weapons of mass destruction should be opposed. We are also concerned at the cavalier attitude displayed to local government by AWE.

While the process may be being played out in a village hall by Parish councillors, the issue at stake is one of national importance.

It is hard to believe the MoD and AWE's assurances that the facilities developments at AWE Aldermaston, the additional recruitment of warhead specialists at the site and the additional funding for AWE announced earlier this year, are not connected to the issue of Trident replacement. And that is is why we are also calling on the government for a full and frank public debate on this wider issue, with all the options on the table."

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Background:

Following a hearing in March this year with reference to a related planning notice from AWE, the planning authority wrote to the MOD requesting a Comprehensive Environment Statement in respect of all the proposals in the Site Development Strategy Plan as published by AWE Aldermaston. This followed lobbying on precisely this issue by local and national anti-nuclear campaigners. (4)

In September the MOD said that the plan would be available in time for tonight's meeting but tonight some councillors present at the meeting said they had not seen the report and that since the proper procedure for informing councillors had not been followed, Councillor Joe Mooney proposed that the decision should be deferred. AWE had apparently set up a meeting on the environmental impact at short notice last week but all councillors had not been informed.

No precise timescale was set for when the matter would come before the committee again. Campaigners will be monitoring the process carefully.

According to industry reports, a German company, MW Zander, has been awarded the ?20m contract to build Orion, with a start date of August 2005 (which obviously precedes the decision being made on whether the development should go ahead or not).

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NOTES:

1. The committee has no power to refuse a NoPD, but under the relevant legislation they can refer the application back to the Secretary of State, stating that they are unable to support the application. They may also ask the Secretary of State to open a public inquiry into the new developments.

2. Planning notice: DOE Circular18/84 Laser research facility (Orion) 05/02003/RESMAJ The planning Offier's report can be found at http://www.westberks.gov.uk/WestBerkshire/minutes.nsf/25bab977b482220680... 07aa75c0b1802570ab0042e68c/$FILE/0502003.doc

3. It is understood that representatives of AWE supplied council officers and some councillors with environmental information on 15 November, just five working days before the metting was held.

4. See
http://www.aldermaston.net/camp_news/articles/articles.php?id=16

Contacts:

Aldermaston Women - or 07946676761

Local contact (Reading Peace Group): Peter Burt 07790 409 339