Postponing a decision on a new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset will create great uncertainty in the construction sector and across business, contractors have said.
On Thursday (28 July), the board of French utility company EDF energy signed off plans to build the Hinkley C plant and provide most of the investment for the £18bn project.
However, Greg Clark, the new secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy then said ministers would delay giving their approval for the project, to allow time to review it.
An artist's impression of the new plant
It had been expected that contracts for the deal would be signed on Friday.
The BBC reported that Chinese officials, who had come to the UK to sign contracts for their investment in the project, will now be returning home.
Marie-Claude Hemming, head of external affairs for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, said EDF’s decision to back the project had ended years of uncertainty for the UK’s nuclear supply chain, and would ‘allow industry to move towards delivery of this vital project’.
However, she said the Government's decision to postpone its final decision on the project ‘will create great uncertainty in the construction sector and the wider business sphere'.
‘Maintaining the security of the UK’s energy supply is fundamental to ensuring our economy remains one of the largest in the world. Any deviation from this path will have severe ramifications for our economic and social growth,’ she said.
The GMB union called the delay 'bewildering and bonkers' and said it had put the project's financing in doubt and 25,000 new jobs at risk immediately after Brexit.
A spokesman for CGN (China General Nuclear Power Corporation) said: ‘We respect the new Government's need to familiarise itself with a project as important to the UK’s future energy security as Hinkley Point C and we stand ready to help the Government in this respect.
‘CGN remains committed to delivering this much needed nuclear capacity with our strategic partners, EDF, and providing the UK with safe, reliable and sustainable energy. We have learnt that the board of EDF has given chairman Levy the authority to proceed with the Financial Investment Decision, subject to approval from the UK Government and the Chinese Government.'
Nick Baveystock, Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) director general, said: 'This delay is disappointing. Government is absolutely right to ensure value for money for the public and we recognise it would’ve been difficult to conduct a review before EDF’s approval, but now more than ever timely, transparent decision making is needed.
'The UK needs to been seen as a reliable partner for investors around the world and we cannot expect to retain confidence if we keep putting back vital decisions. Capacity margins are also tightening and delivering a stable, low carbon energy supply depends on commitment to a mix of technologies – including nuclear - and our ability to make bold, strategic choices. We look forward to a swift decision from Government.'