Managing our nuclear legacy: my NIPA story

28 September 2023

Anna Coyle
Legal Counsel (Planning) at Nuclear Waste Services

“Hello, I’m Anna and I work in nuclear waste” wasn’t something I ever expected I’d be saying.

But I am, I do, and it’s brilliant.  I’m proud to be playing a part in tackling one of the most demanding environmental challenges of our time.  I work for Nuclear Waste Services, I’m a NIPA Early Years Practitioner (EYP) and this is my NIPA story.

Why and how did I get into this?  Like many of us in the infrastructure sector, I like problem solving.  As a student I didn’t know much about planning – I did a history degree – but I knew I wanted to do something where I would feel stretched, that would offer variety, and where my personal efforts would make a difference.

I trained and qualified as a solicitor specialising in planning and compulsory purchase.  Now, my day job as Legal Counsel is to facilitate the management our nuclear energy legacy.  I work as part of a team supporting the delivery of solutions for the safe and permanent disposal of radioactive waste.  I’m involved in the delivery of the UK’s first Geological Disposal Facility, a solution that involves placing higher-activity waste hundreds of metres deep underground, as well as other large-scale capital projects.  It’s a niche area, with unique challenges.  Geological disposal requires a programme like no other, looking forward hundreds of thousands of years to provide protection to future generations.  I feel lucky to work for an organisation with such an important mission.

When I first heard about planning as a trainee solicitor, someone jested that I might get to colour in some maps.  And I did!  It was a brain-twisting exercise trying to unpick a complicated highways problem.  What I do now continues to be incredibly intellectually fulfilling and I’m hugely glad I stepped into this sector.

I was attracted to planning law because of the variety, intellectual stretch, and the satisfaction of working on things with tangible outcomes.  The work we do as planners leads to the infrastructure our colleagues in construction build and we, as society, all need and benefit from.

As an in-house lawyer my role is to be the ‘intelligent client’, making connections across complex issues and asking the right questions.  Attention to detail is very important; my team works across all parts of the business, giving us the opportunity to identify issues and solutions that others might not see.

Reflecting on my early years and first steps into the infrastructure planning sector, I was tentative about the world of DCOs.  The NSIP regime, with its tight timescales and large administrative operations, seemed intense and somewhat esoteric from where I was at the time working on TCPA schemes.  However, in practice I really enjoyed focusing on a big project alongside a diverse professional team.  I followed advice to ‘be a sponge’ and it wasn’t long until I was well versed in DCO lingo.

What we’re trying to do as the NIPA EYPs steering group is create more opportunities for junior practitioners (with up to 10 years’ relevant planning experience) to learn and connect. I get a huge amount out of being a NIPA EYP.  From knowledge and confidence to insights, connections, and experience I know I wouldn’t get otherwise get. Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely.

EYPs can bring a fresh perspective as the next generation of infrastructure enablers, and this is well recognised at NIPA.  EYPs tend to work at the coalface and are (in my view) well-placed to comment on how the system could work better in practice.  This is particularly relevant to conversations around ‘PlanTech’, to use that phrase, as we move from labour intensive processes to digital ones.  Whether that’s at a functional level like document management or in terms of DCO validation, there’s a lot to consider as we seek to speed up planning while maintaining a robust and effective consenting process.  EYPs will soon be able to put themselves forward for one of three dedicated EYP positions on the NIPA Council.  I’m looking forward to seeing the valuable contributions that EYPs make in those roles.

I love my job (at least, most of the time) and I would thoroughly recommend a career in infrastructure planning. It’s a dynamic industry with lots of opportunity. You might even get to colour in some maps.


The opinions expressed here are my own and not representative of Nuclear Waste Services.