UK: Planning Act Blog 193: House of Commons debates Energy National Policy Statements

Last Updated: 6 December 2010
Article by Angus Walker

This is entry number 193, first published on 2 December 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog. If you would like to be notified when the blog is updated, with links sent by email, click here.

Today's entry reports on a debate on the energy National Policy Statements in the House of Commons yesterday.

No, this is not a repeat of the previous blog entry - it is new. On Tuesday, the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee grilled the energy minister Charles Hendry on the six energy National Policy Statements (NPSs) (and I understand that they may be having a second session of oral evidence on 14 December).

Yesterday, he was back facing the whole of the House of Commons on the same subject. This debate is actually one that was held over from the first round of consultation on the NPSs, but it is so late that it has been overtaken by the second round. The Hansard report of the debate can be found here, starting at column 889.

The atmosphere was very different from Tuesday's select committee debate, with a wider range of knowledge and subjects raised from those present.

Charles Hendry gave an opening speech lasting nearly an hour of the two and a half allotted hours, but that includes several interventions. He launched into the background to the government's energy policy and was sidetracked into a discussion on the green deal, off-(gas)grid properties, and the Sheffield Forgemasters loan that was withdrawn.

Martin Horwood of Cheltenham suggested that there may not be enough uranium reserves in the world to support a long-lasting expansion of nuclear energy. Charles Hendry said that the OECD disagreed with the figure he was quoting and that thorium and reprocessed plutonium could be used as well.

Charles Hendry made it clear that £1bn was being spent by the government on the first coal-fired plant to be fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) only, since it was the only project left in the first round of competition, and more money would be found for the next three projects for which future competitions would be held. The first CCS project will apply to Scottish Power's Longannet power station near Kincardine in Fife. It is the third-largest coal-fired power station in Europe, so if the expenditure of £1bn is effective (which one would certainly hope), the technology should be able to be used at other plants. I hope the government is keeping rights to any patents that result.

There was some discussion of EN-5, the electric lines NPS, where Charles Hendry repeated yesterday's mention of a study being undertaken by the Institute of Engineering and Technology into the relative cost of underground, and under-sea, electric lines, which is meant to put at rest arguments about how much more expensive undergrounding is than overgrounding.

In reply, Labour shadow energy minister Huw Irranca-Davies asked that several days be set aside for the debate on ratification of the energy NPSs, and that the DECC ministers be able to take part in the debate (rather than being 'squeezed out of their seats by the right honourable and saintly member for Brentwood and Ongar' - i.e. that it was not just a planning issue). He asked that there be a separate vote on each NPS, and questioned why the vote would be unamendable. He asked what the point was of Parliament voting on them if they were unable to be amended.

Damian Collins of Folkestone and Hythe, put in a plea for reinstating Dungeness as a potential nuclear site (dropped largely because of Natural England concerns about damage to the protected shingle beach there).

Alan Whitehead repeated his concerns from yesterday that the shortfall in electricity production that could not be met by renewable energy would be met by gas rather than nuclear, saying that the Committee on Climate Change believed that only three new nuclear stations would be ready by 2020.

Richard Graham of Gloucester gave the earliest date for the lights going out of 2014 and commended the Barnwood nuclear academy in his constituency.

Tessa Munt of Wells suggested that the new draft of EN-5 appeared to weaken the application of the 'Holford Rules' for siting overhead electric lines. In his conclusion Charles Hendry suggested that local areas would benefit from business rates for such projects, although I believe the benefits to be for onshore windfarms only at present.

Charles Hendry responded to the points made. He confirmed that there would be votes on each NPS individually and that there would not be scope for 'hundreds of amendments' on them (i.e. no amendments at all, presumably). As the debate deadline of 7 p.m. struck he was cut off in mid sentence.

Previous entry 192: Minister takes heat over energy National Policy Statements as nuclear events announced
Next entry 194: sparks amid snow at energy NPS public consultation event

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