To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Statement by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on 17 July 2013 (HC Deb, col 106WS), how the package of benefits for communities in the areas around Hinkley Point C has been implemented so far; and how much the benefits provided to date have been worth.
My Lords, as stated in 2013, community benefit would not begin paying out until the plant is operational, which for Hinkley Point C is anticipated to be in 2025. However, communities are already seeing significant local economic benefits from the project, through investment in wider infrastructure, new employment opportunities and benefits for the local supply chain.
I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, but I think the local community were expecting something a little sooner, from business rates, which would have come in the local government finance Bill, but that was not in the Queen’s Speech. I take into account what the Minister said, but, given that Hinkley is already under construction, the local council there does not feel that the community is feeling the benefit. It was promised £128 million. What alternative arrangements are the Government making to deliver that? The community needs clarity.
My Lords, there is absolute clarity, and there was absolute clarity in the original Written Ministerial Statement made by my honourable friend—I shall just double-check which one it was—my honourable friend Mr Fallon, back in July 2013. That is all of five years ago, and he made it absolutely clear that these particular benefits would not come into play until Hinkley Point was operating. That will, as I said, be in 2025. So there is clarity there. Other benefits are obviously coming through the work of construction, and improvements to local infrastructure are already happening; I think that EDF has already spent £45 million to date on assisting the local community with accommodation, economic development, education and skills, transport, environment and more. Obviously there is a certain amount of disruption; that is a matter for the original planning consent. Economic benefits are on their way and are coming—but what the noble Baroness asked about will not come into play until 2025.
I support the Question asked by the noble Baroness. I thought that there were to be two phases to the benefits. There was to be an initial first phase, to which I think the noble Baroness was referring, which will be company supported. My question is about the fact that, when we consider the technicalities of these community arrangements, it looks as if the taxpayer is funding more of the benefits than the company. My interpretation of the Written Ministerial Statement made all those years ago was that there would be a two-year gap between the end of phase 1 benefits and the start of phase 2 benefits, so can the Government look at whether the company can bridge that gap and make further contributions during this period?
My Lords, again, there is no lack of clarity on this. The Statement made five years ago—“all those years ago”, as the noble Lord put it—made it absolutely clear that the approximately £128 million which was likely to come through business rate retention would come after the plant became operational. Meanwhile, there will be the benefits that I enunciated, which will come through the company building this project. On top of what I already mentioned, there is the spend it is making down the supply chain in the west of England—£450 million so far. So considerable benefits are already on their way, but business rate retention does not come into play until later.
My noble friend will be aware that this is taking place in my former constituency. It is one of the largest construction projects in Europe. People there are already facing fantastic lorry traffic: a figure I saw recently was 750 lorries a day going along not entirely ideal road routes. The local community is already making a substantial contribution by tolerating this terrific volume of construction traffic and all the work involved in it. My concern—the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, made this point—is that I understand that the real community benefit does not kick in until 2025. Actually, the community is making its contribution now. A lot of people do not have jobs there and will not be working there—some will, but only a relatively small number. We ought to find some way to ensure that the community benefit takes place at the time when the community is really suffering as a result of the present commotion and activity.
My noble friend, with his local knowledge as the former Member for that area, knows exactly what his former constituents are going through, and he is right to address those points. All sites of this sort go through a rigorous planning process. In that process, it is possible for the planning authorities to grant planning permission through a Section 106 agreement, looking to get benefits from the developers in that area. That has been dealt with by the local authority in that process.
On top of that, as I made clear in earlier answers, there are also the advantages to the area through spend in the area—I mentioned the spend directly on the site, on the roads and on other things, the contribution that EDF is making, as well as the spend on the supply chain in the entire south-west region.
My Lords, we are often told that one Parliament cannot bind the actions of the next, and we are in another Parliament now. Clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord King, said, the disruption to the local community is now. So why do the Government not think that it would be better to bring these payments forward? The district authority, Sedgemoor, has proposed that ridding the district of fuel poverty would be an excellent way to use some of the money—appropriate and something that could start now. Surely the Government could do that.
My Lords, we have a process, we announced what that process was and that process is to bring in benefit to the area when the plant becomes operational. Meanwhile, there are other ways in which EDF can help, which I have gone through—the Section 106 agreement and other things, and the spend it is making in the area which, again, is of benefit to the area. I could go on listing—