Sparks fly as council squares up to EDF over N-power plan costs

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The Independent Online

A local council in Somerset is taking on the mighty EDF Energy in a row over the cost of a planning application for a £10bn nuclear power station.

It puts into doubt David Cameron's promise at the weekend that Britain and France will co-operate to build new power plants in the UK. In Paris, Mr Cameron said deals between British and French companies – worth more than £500m – will allow work to start on new facilities, creating more than 1,500 jobs.

But such Anglo-French co-operation is missing in Somerset where councillors at Sedgemoor District Council have accused the energy giant of using bully-boy tactics in pushing through plans for a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point.

Kerry Rickards, pictured, the council's chief executive, said: "EDF has put us in a very difficult position."

Last week the council was forced to adjourn the setting of its annual council tax because of arguments over an estimated £2m legal bill. The row centres on the cost of employing specialist lawyers to scrutinise EDF Energy's application to the Infrastructure Planning Commission for its new nuclear power station. The Council is refusing to use local council taxpayers' money to carry out the work, as it says the project is of national benefit and is being built by a commercial, profit-making company.

"It is entirely improper that we use extremely scarce public money to fund the development process relating to a privately owned commercial asset of a company," said Duncan McGinty, leader of the council. "There are still key issues to be resolved at a local level before this development can take place.

"The legitimate rights and concerns of the local community are far from settled at this stage. The planning process is currently stalled while we wait for the developer, French company EDF, to agree vital funding for the necessary scrutiny of the development process."

EDF said it had voluntarily provided more than £13m to the three concerned local councils – Somerset, West Somerset and Sedgemoor – to allow them to scrutinise the proposals for Hinkley Point C.

"This has ensured that council budgets have not been affected by the Hinkley Point C project," said a spokesman for the energy giant. "We are voluntarily committing to continue to fund the reasonable costs incurred by the local authorities during the IPC process."