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Thursday, 18 December 2014

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Sellafield's rescue plan for The Beacon

THE Beacon is likely to be saved from closure – thanks to nuclear intervention and the prospect of a big cash injection.

Sellafield Ltd has stepped in with a rescue plan for Whitehaven’s harbourside tourist attraction doomed to close under Copeland Council’s massive spending cuts.

But now The Whitehaven News can reveal the two will work together in partnership with the aim of keeping the facility to tell the Story of Sellafield as well as being a flagship visitor attraction for Whitehaven and Copeland.

It can’t be a done deal until the financial and legal nuts and bolts, as well as ownership, have been sorted. Early New Year is the timetable. Staff issues, such as redundancies, cannot be ruled out.

There is a chance that the Market Place Tourist Information Centre, also under closure threat, could be incorporated into a completely new-look Beacon along with Sellafield supply chain businesses having their own shop window.

Sellafield Ltd envisages putting in a sizeable cash investment.

Officially the company has ‘expressed an interest’ but stakeholders relations director Rory O’Neill said: “We certainly want to save The Beacon. I am confident we will make it work. This is an exciting development for us, it has great potential offering us a showcase facility for both members of the public and visitors to come and engage with us.

“We want to tell the Sellafield story past, present and future. The Beacon could be the best way to do that while at the same time working with Copeland and enabling them to continue to provide what is a fantastic visitor attraction.

“We offer a first-class education programme, The Beacon already offers one of its own, so we are interested in exploring how these could potentially be delivered more collaboratively which would give a focus to some of our supply chain companies to target their socio-economic and educational funding.

“If all of this can be married together and focused in the right way then I believe it could be possible to provide a service which is even better.

“We have a business need for a base in Whitehaven where members of the supply chain and the public can meet our representatives away from the site to learn about what we do and how they can get involved.

“The Beacon has a much brighter future today than it had yesterday.”

Copeland Council leader Elaine Woodburn said: “Having Whitehaven as the centre of Sellafield’s supply chain liaison would be fantastic. This is a move that has far wider benefits for the community as a whole.

“I am optimistic this partnership will ensure The Beacon’s future as well as signalling the beginning of an even more successful period in its history by using the skills, experience and professionalism that Sellafield Ltd offers.”

The Beacon runs at a loss – it costs £490,000 a year to run and closing it or finding someone to help run it would save the council £325,000 a year.

Mr O’Neill could not give any details about how much it would take to make The Beacon more financially viable, despite attracting 90,000 visitors in the last year.

Asked about the scale of running costs and Sellafield Ltd’s likely investment, the Sellafield director said: “This is part of the on-going discussions. We are looking at both the financial and legal arrangements; we’d work that out in partnership.

“Also what it means for the staff who come to work at The Beacon and those who currently work there as well.”

He confirmed: “It would be a substantial investment, absolutely.”

The Beacon employs 13 people. Mr O’Neill said: “As things currently stand we’d want Sellafield Ltd staff here to tell the Sellafield story and the wider Cumbria story by the present Beacon staff.”

It was possible some could be transferred to the Sellafield Ltd payroll. “I wouldn’t have thought all of them, but potentially some. We are looking at all options,” he added.

Asked whether there would be any Beacon job losses, Coun Woodburn said: “I don’t know yet. We’re going through a long process and until we come to the conclusions it would be wrong for us to say there will be no redundancies. We need to continue discussions with Sellafield Ltd but the priority is for us to retain the skills that have been built up here.

“The Beacon has to evolve and change. Visitors want a different experience when they walk through the doors.

“If there’s a partnership that can deliver a benefit to the nuclear industry and a benefit to the local community I will bite Sellafield’s hand off. Mixing the best of both worlds is a win for everybody.”

The council’s director of services, Pat Graham, said: “The consultations have shown not only are the public interested in keeping the facility open but also that it is for the benefit of their children.”

The Beacon’s education programme, she said, was booked solid attracting 5,000 children a year.

The Wellington Bistro is run separately on a lease from the council.

Copeland Council received 280 completed questionnaires from members of the public during the cuts consultation period which ended on Friday.

In addition, it has received individual representations from a number of organisations plus a 2,500-signature petition organised by Whitehaven Theatre Group to protest the closure of Whitehaven Civic Hall and other at-risk venues.

The feedback is now being correlated and decisions taken in February.

Have your say

It would be interesting to see how much CBC receives indirectly from the nuclear industry, by way of council tax paid by nuclear employees. Add to that these direct cash injections, that would be a large proportion of CBC revenue from Sellafield, year after year, since the 1940s. CBC are in Sellafields pocket and always will be.

Posted by David Scameron on 23 February 2013 at 17:33

M Mcluan wrote......OK we have to put up with odd leaks and the dangers of badly maintained plant, but what else is there?

Wrong question and wrong answer. If, Copeland had a strong council, which isn't going to happen anytime soon as it's all but beholden to the nuclear industry you could have far more. The nuclear industry has a responsibility to Copeland and its far more than saving the Beacon (welcome though that is) Yes, 500 new jobs are very welcome but there should be much more.

I learned of a family in Millom the other day who like many face stark choices between paying the bills and eating. There is a lot of deprivation in West Cumbria so perhaps in addition to the new jobs, saving the Beacon and other community projects the nuclear industry might see fit to contribute something to setting up some much needed food banks in the area and supporting them.

Posted by Colin Wales on 22 December 2012 at 19:01

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