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The Atomic Weapons Establishments at AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield in Berkshire are subject to safety zones of a radius of 8km in the case of AWE Aldermaston and 5km in the case of AWE Burghfield. These are intended to control residential and other developments which would introduce additional residents and/or workers within the zones. Any planning permissions granted need to take account of the safety requirements of those establishments and the need for access and escape in the event of an emergency.
Planning consultants and developers in the area are aware of these zones. As you might expect, the nearer you are to each establishment, the “lower” is the bar for a development requiring approval and consultation.
Notably, the 2013 General Development Order (GDO) which is being widely used for excess office conversion into residential accommodation is excluded in relation to “safety hazard areas”, which includes these consultation zones around AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield. This means that any application needs express planning approval and so is subject to the need for prior consultation with the Office for Nuclear Regulation, and not merely “prior approval” by the local authority. Also, a local authority search would not reveal the existence of the disallowance of the GDO in these zones. The first a building owner might know about it is when their “application for prior approval” under the GDO is rejected by the local planning authority.
This has the consequence that local authorities wishing to preserve employment premises may use this opportunity to refuse consent for conversion. If they are minded to grant consent for conversion, they will be entitled to do so subject to payments being made under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1992 and/or community infrastructure levy payments being required, both of which would not apply in the event of conversion under the GDO.