Green Recovery

Local government is always working on two fronts: to deliver effective services today and to yield better future outcomes for their community. In the middle of this unprecedented crisis, the need for action on public health and the economy, while laying the foundations of a future recovery, is more urgent than ever. 

There has been much talk, nationally and locally, of what comes next. How we deliver a ‘Green Recovery’ or ‘Build Back Better’ is a concern of local authorities of all political persuasions. Investment in 21st century infrastructure will be a central aspect of the recovery phase.

One major infrastructure scheme for England and Wales, perhaps not on the radar of many as yet, is the Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) which is a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) in England. A GDF is a multi-billion pound development that will deliver employment and wider benefits to its host community – and beyond – for over 100 years. It will take some of the UK radioactive wastes and dispose of them 100s of metres below the surface in an engineered facility, protecting humans and the environment.

Such an approach is accepted internationally as the best option for long term radioactive waste management. Finland’s repository is due to open next year while Sweden’s proposals are awaiting final government approval following overwhelming support from the local municipality. Countries including Canada, Switzerland and Japan are all looking for a suitable location.

The siting process in England and Wales was launched nearly two years ago. Several local authorities are already engaged in discussions with the developer, Radioactive Waste Management (RWM), a public body, with the first two ‘Working Groups’ being formed now to engage their local communities. Others are expected to follow.

Councils and communities can withdraw from the process at any stage, and the development will only proceed if local people give their consent through a test of public support. Any community entering the process by forming a ‘Community Partnership’ will receive up to £1 million pounds per year for local projects, rising to £2.5 million later in the process.  Community Partnerships will also receive support to help them engage the local population and develop a long-term vision that could underpin greater investment in future.

2717-01-NDA - UK GDF Concept for higher strength rock - Surface Facilities - 2013 Inventory for Disposal_LABELED

The most significant prize will be the hundreds of well-paid jobs for well over a century of continuous facility construction and operation, along with further substantial investment that will flow to the successful area, based on the community vision. Working with the developer, local and national government will be able to use this to invest in community priorities. This might include critical infrastructure such as new transport links or net zero carbon energy projects. It could support skills development or visitor attractions.

While it is hard to see beyond the Covid pandemic at this time, we know that we will eventually be able to put it in the past. Starting now, the GDF programme could act as a catalyst for local well-being or regeneration, shaping a better future in line with the vision of the community. The search is only just beginning, and the door is open to any local authority from across England and Wales. Nuleaf, the LGA’s Special Interest Group (SIG) on nuclear legacy issues, has been heavily involved in the design of the current process and is there to offer impartial advice to any local authority interested in engaging in the process or simply finding out more.

Cllr Matthew Riddle is Chair of Nuleaf (Nuclear Legacy Advisory Forum) and the former leader of South Gloucestershire Council. For further information please contact Philip Matthews, NuLeAF’s Executive Director at or access the website .