If there was a day that David Cameron's Big Society quietly or not so quietly died then it the day that plans for low-level radioactive waste disposal to be allowed at a landfill site in Northamptonshire were given the go-ahead by the government. The decision for Kings Cliffe near Peterborough follows a two-year stand-off between the hazardous waste company Augean and campaigners. Nearly 98% of people who voted in local referendums voted to oppose the plans. Northamptonshire county councillors had also voted unanimously to reject the plan (which is a legacy of the last Labour Government) back in March 2010.Many people saw this case as an important test case for waste companies and one that would really test the Con Dem government's much proclaimed commitment to localism.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles (who at first glance bares an amazing resemblance to that type of smug long time elected and arrogant with it Labour councillor that many people in the South of Wales would recognise) said he had accepted expert advice that planning permission for this additional waste "would not be harmful to the local community". A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said Mr Pickles had taken account of the detailed findings of the planning inspector who had held a public local inquiry which was open and transparent to the public.
One one of the reasons why the waste may be dumped in Kings Cliffe is because of the UK Governments unhealthy obsession with pushing to develop Nuclear energy, because as older reactors are taken out of service, the demolition of surrounding buildings will produce a large amount of low-level radioactive waste. The Kings Cliffe Waste Watchers protest group believe that the site will end taking construction rubble from decommissioned nuclear plants because the existing national low-level radioactive waste repository near the Sellafield nuclear plant at Drigg in Cumbria is filling up.
There is a degree of irony here because whilst riding roughshod over the democratically expressed wishes of local people and various levels of elected local government citizen Pickles is valiantly endeavouring to guide the localism bill through the Westminster Parliament. So much for the Big Society was the Conservatives' main flagship policy at the last Westminster general election and was allegedly based around a desire to shrink the role of government and devolve power to local communities to run their own services.
Depending on who's doing the counting Mr Cameron ("call me Dave" is no more) appears to have re-launched the Big Society four times since the heady days of May 2010. There is much muttering on the Conservative benches from those who have always felt the idea is "too woolly", lacks clarity and inspiration. Too make matters worse Lord Wei (the PM's Big Society Tsar), who announced his resignation (on 24th May) to go back to charity work) has stated that the Big Society required a culture change that could take two parliaments to achieve, but it's critics (Conservative and otherwise) will no doubt continue to wonder aloud how much longer the big idea will last...