UK: Planning Act Blog 194: Sparks Amid Snow At Energy NPS Public Consultation Event

Last Updated: 6 December 2010
Article by Angus Walker

This is entry number 194, first published on 6 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 the energy National Policy Statement London consultation meeting.

It will be a busy week this week for the Department for Communities and Local Government now that the Localism Bill has been confirmed as coming out on Thursday 9 December, but it was a busy week last week for officials at the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). On Tuesday they were supporting their minister in front of a select committee in the House of Commons; on Wednesday they supported him in action again on the floor of the House, and they also attended a local consultation event in West Mersea in Essex on the proposed Bradwell nuclear power station. Finally, last week saw the three public consultation meetings on the six revised energy National Policy Statements (NPSs). Here is a report of the London event, which took place on Thursday.

It was somewhat ironic to discuss climate change with a backdrop of heavy snow, but nevertheless some 30 hardy souls made it to the Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre near Waterloo for the meeting (there were at least 100 at the meeting in Kensington almost exactly a year ago on the original drafts). There were even some anti-nuclear protesters outside handing out leaflets. Although intended to be a public consultation event, only a couple of those present could be considered members of the public, symptomatic of the difficulty of engaging the public in a debate about policy without physical projects on the table.

Hergen Haye of DECC acted as facilitator in the absence of the booked facilitator, and did rather a good job of making sure everyone had their say and that contributions on the same subject were grouped together, making the discussion almost flow. Giles Scott, head of development consents and planning reform at DECC, introduced the process and what the main changes to the NPSs had been.

There was then a discussion on the process. I and others asked about the transition from the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) to the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit (MIPU) in April 2012. Giles said that the transitional provisions in the Localism Bill would mean that existing applications that would have been decided by the IPC would take up to three months longer if they were still being considered on 1 April 2012, as instead of taking a decision, MIPU would make a recommendation to the government, who would have a further three months to make the decision. That looks like a 'seam' to me, but we will see how the transition is expressed in the Localism Bill.

Friends of the Earth are as disappointed as the RSPB (see previous blog entry) with the revised Appraisals of Sustainability that accompany the NPSs. They were also hoping that the IPC would never make any decisions, but Giles Scott said that unless the government used its 'call in' powers, it would make decisions between the time that the first NPSs were ratified ('designated'), probably in spring 2011, until it was abolished in April 2012. Thus any applications made so far, until about April 2011 would probably get decided by the IPC (although there is only one in that category at the moment).

Unlike the 2009 energy NPS consultation meeting, but like the consultation meeting on the Ports NPS, we were then divided into groups for separate discussions on aspects of the NPSs over two sessions. I joined the Overarching Energy NPS EN-1 discussion first and then the Nuclear Power NPS EN-6 discussion. I asked if it was deliberate that the need for energy infrastructure had been described as 'significant' in the first draft of EN-1 and was now 'urgent' in the revised draft. Yes, it was deliberate and the new government were quite comfortable with describing the need as urgent where the previous government had not been. This point is not listed amongst the summary of changes to the NPS, however. The Nuclear NPS discussion focused on siting on the coast given potential sea level rises, and the disposal of waste.

The discussion then went back into plenary session where comments on the six NPSs were invited. Giles Scott explained that consented but not yet built projects had not been assumed in the NPSs since they might never be built and so should not be relied upon. Inevitably EN-6 took up most of the discussion. The main subjects addressed were again adaptation to climate change and disposal of waste (things got a little tense between Shut Down Sizewell and the Environment Agency on the former issue at one point). It was made clear by DECC that nuclear was not the only, or even preferred, option for electricity generation - there had to be a mix of energy sources. The carbon cost of nuclear did include the mining of uranium.

We learnt that there will be a consultation soon on how much of the cost of disposal of nuclear waste should be borne by the nuclear power companies, and how much by the goverment, although the power station owners would bear the full cost of decommissioning them.

Finally I learnt that the revised Communities and Local Government 'road map' for the implementation of the Planning Act regime that was at one time expected 'later in the summer', was still expected before Christmas.

Previous entry 193: House of Commons debates energy National Policy Statements

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