In the early 2000s, Cumbria County Council and Manchester City Council officers discussed the possibility of creating a special interest group, under the auspices of the Local Government Association, which could bring together local authorities with common concerns around radioactive waste management and nuclear decommissioning. The discussions were challenging as, at the time as now, the two authorities held very different views on the costs and benefits of civil nuclear energy.
Nevertheless, Cumbria County Council were encouraged to explore options for an English and Welsh local authorities’ network having engaged with the US local government network – the Energy Communities Alliance (see: www.energyca.org/). Manchester City Council, which provided the Secretariat for the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), also recognised the potential advantages of a broader based network able to represent local authority interests and engage with Government to influence policy on legacy waste management issues.
Key drivers for the joint Cumbria/Manchester initiative were the then requirements to engage with Government over the future management of public sector nuclear liabilities, and development of policy for siting and constructing a geological disposal facility for higher activity radioactive wastes. The former work resulted in the Energy Act 2004 establishing the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. The latter work resulted in the 2008 White Paper on Managing Radioactive Waste Safely.
In early 2003, Cumbria and Manchester jointly canvassed support within local government to establish the minimum of 10 member councils which were required to support an application to the Local Government Association for recognition as a ‘special interest group’ (SIG). Pledges of support were quickly gathered from local authorities across England and Wales.
The initial meeting was held in Manchester in November 2003, and the Minutes record attendance from the following councils: Copeland Borough Council, Lancashire County Council, Preston City Council, Cumbria County Council, Kent County Council, Leeds City Council, Essex County Council, Manchester City Council, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, Hartlepool Borough Council and the Nuclear Free Local Authorities. Business considered included, the working structure of the organisation, draft terms of reference (which although adopted continued to be refined at subsequent meetings), the Aims and Benefits of the organisation, funding, stakeholder engagement and encouraging membership amongst other local authorities.
The first AGM was held in Preston in November 2004, where it was agreed that the SIG should be known as the ‘Nuclear Legacy Advisory Forum’ – or NuLeAF to signal a new chapter in engagement between local authorities in England and Wales and Government on nuclear legacy issues.
Between 2003 and 2005 the NuLeAF Steering Group met quarterly under the Chairmanship of Copeland Borough Council and the Vice Chairmanship of Manchester City Council, with Manchester and Cumbria providing a joint Secretariat resource. A small income stream was established through core contributing authority annual subscriptions to support NuLeAF’s work – an arrangement that continues until this day.
Importantly, NuLeAF was quickly able to establish itself and demonstrate its value to Government and the newly formed Nuclear Decommissioning Authority who, by 2005 agreed to provide financial support on a ‘no strings’ basis. This external funding enabled NuLeAF to appoint a full time Executive Director and Business Co-ordinator, and to rapidly develop into the established and valued organisation that it is today.