The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is legally challenging development works at RAF Lakenheath which it believes are to prepare for stationing nuclear weapons by the US Air Force (USAF).

CND claims the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and West Suffolk Council (West Suffolk) have failed to assess the environmental impact of potentially facilitating the weapons at the Suffolk airbase and has called on the MoD to halt development works at RAF Lakenheath while the necessary screening is carried out.

In letters to the MoD and West Suffolk, CND says that under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2017 the development does not have permitted development rights which would allow it to go ahead.

The work could go ahead without an environmental impact assessment if it was being carried out by or on behalf of the Crown but this does not apply since the building works are being done by and for the USAF, it is believed.

CND points out that works at RAF Lakenheath – rapid airfield damage repair facilities (RADR), a child development centre and a 144-bed dormitory – should have been considered as one whole project for planning purposes. Planning Practice Guidance states: “an application should not be considered in isolation if, in reality, it is an integral part of a more substantial development”.

Separate environmental impact screening assessments have been carried out for the child development centre and the RADR, but none has been done for the 144-bed dormitory, which the MoD has indicated that it believes has permitted development rights. CND says there has been no screening of the dormitory plan by West Suffolk to show it would have no significant environmental impact, and without that screening it cannot have permitted development rights.

In its legal letter to the MoD, CND explains that the development works for the dormitory should not be considered as one of several small projects but as part of one whole project with a major environmental impact that should be assessed as a whole.

It says any assessment must include not only the construction of the buildings comprising the various developments, but also the effects of the use of those buildings, that is the effects of stationing nuclear weapons at RAF Lakenheath.

It says CND does not need to rehearse the potential risks which stationing weapons at RAF Lakenheath entails at a local, national and international level. Those risks extend not only to the risk of weapons being negligently maintained or handled by USAF personnel, but also security risks if malicious actors break into the airbase or the weapons cause the UK to become a target for a nuclear attack.

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said:

“USAF has ploughed ahead with construction at the airbase by purportedly relying on planning rights that assume that the development won’t have significant environmental effects. But in doing that they’ve completely ignored the risks that stationing nuclear weapons would entail and therefore might arguably be operating unlawfully in breach of planning control.”

CND is represented by planning law specialist, solicitor Ricardo Gama at law firm Leigh Day.

Ricardo Gama said:

“CND wants to make sure that the development at RAF Lakenheath, and the wider question of whether nuclear weapons should be stationed on UK soil, if that is what the USAF is planning, doesn’t slip under the radar without proper public scrutiny. The planning process is one way for members of the public to make representations on these controversial plans.”