Marcus Evans Group | Worldwide Headquarters | American Offices | Latin America | European Offices | African / Asian Offices

Gardeners’ Question Time chairman accused of conflict of interests

Chairman of Cumbria Tourism is also involved with a PR firm working on issues surrounding a nuclear waste repository

The chairman of BBC’s Gardeners Question Time is embroiled in a row over his support for new nuclear power stations planned close to the Lake District.

Eric Robson, who will appear on Sunday in the Wainwright’s Long Walk television series, is being accused of a conflict of interest by anti-nuclear protesters opposed to a second generation of plants and the possible siting of a high-level waste dump in the region.

The broadcaster is chairman of the Cumbria Tourism organisation while also being involved with Osprey Communications, a PR firm working on issues surrounding a deep underground repository.

“This is a big fat conflict of interest,” argues Marianne Birkby from local pressure group, Radioactive Free Lakeland. “Eric Robson is both poacher and gamekeeper by acting as a PR guru for an organisation which is essentially promoting steps towards geological disposal while holding a position of trust for tourism and the environment. He should step down from Cumbria Tourism,” she added.

The debate around the future of nuclear in the Cumbria area which is already home to the giant Sellafield atomic complex heated up with the release of a new draft consultation document on high level radioactive waste burial.

The issue was also highlighted on Friday when power company, Scottish and Southern Energy announced it was pulling out of a joint venture to build a new nuclear plant to generate electricity near Sellafield. The company said it planned to concentrate on renewable energy such as wind. It leaves Centrica, owner of British Gas, as the only UK company still in the race to build new nuclear stations.

Cumbria Tourism plans to appoint a consultant who will undertake a “brand protection” strategy that will look into whether new nuclear plants or dumps in the region would undermine the Lake District’s £2bn a year tourism industry. The head of policy, Richard Greenwood, admitted more nuclear development “probably is not going to be a benefit.”

On Friday Robson confirmed his support for Britain to proceed with a new generation of nuclear power plants but said he had “no settled view” on whether there should be a high level waste dump at Sellafield on the Cumbrian coast.

He strongly denied he was compromised over his work as chairman of Cumbria Tourism and his part ownership of, and work for, Osprey Communications in its role as adviser to the West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership.

“The members of Cumbria Tourism are well aware of my personal views about nuclear. They have the opportunity to replace me at every annual general meeting and have not done so.

I have voiced a DVD [that Osprey did] for the partnership but I have otherwise not been involved.

“The partnership is in any case promoting democratic debate around the geological disposal of radioactive waste not taking decisions on whether to go-ahead or not. I can’t see how that can be wrong.”

But Radioactive Free Lakeland and others environmental groups see the partnership as a government-inspired vehicle for hastening the introduction of a high level waste dump. They are convinced that ministers believe they can only proceed with new nuclear as long as they are seen to be taking steps to deal with a toxic historic legacy. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds