UK: Planning Act Blog 199: More Energy NPS Scrutiny, Plus Localism Bill News

Last Updated: 22 December 2010
Article by Angus Walker

This is entry number 199, first published on 17 December 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008 (with added Localism). 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 further scrutiny of the energy National Policy Statements and other news.

Energy National Policy Statement scrutiny

Six revised National Policy Statements (NPSs) were published in October and a public consultation is running on them until 24 January 2011. They are also undergoing scrutiny in Parliament. Here is a report of consideration of them by the House of Commons, and also forthcoming dates for consideration by the House of Lords.

The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee of the House of Commons held its second evidence session on the NPSs on Tuesday. It had originally planned to have only one session, where the energy minister was the witness (report here) but was persuaded to hear some witnesses from environmental and industry organisations. As it turned out, the discussion did not deal with the NPSs that much, but was nevertheless (or perhaps 'therefore', given that the changes were fairly minor) quite lively.

The session was divided into two parts: first, Simon Bullock of Friends of the Earth, Dustin Benton of the CPRE, and Ivan Scrase and Simon Marsh of the RSPB were quizzed by the committee. The committee asked some searching questions - for example, why the organisations complained of the blind faith of the government that a solution would be found to long-term nuclear waste disposal, while they themselves had blind faith that carbon capture and storage (CCS) at a commercial scale would be able to be developed in the next four years. Their non-nuclear strategy was based on greater efficiency, decentralisation, renewables, more investment in storage and interconnection with other countries. If CCS wasn't realised, Simon B conceded that on top of some unabated (i.e. non-CCS) gas, nuclear might be the only option to fill the gap between projected demand and supply.

All three organisations thought that the NPSs should be more explicit about how much of each type of electricity production was needed and where it should be built. They said that the appraisals of sustainability that accompanied the NPSs and had been extensively revised were significantly better but still not good enough. They did not treat alternatives equally - even dismissively, although the committee seemed sceptical that they should do so. Dustin Benton pointed out that some of the changes to the NPSs did not appear to have been reflected in the AoSs, giving as examples the relaxation in the application of the 'Holford rules' on siting pylons in the Electricity Networks NPS (EN-5), and the effect of an emphasis on the regional economy on Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks. Tim Yeo MP suggested that overhead, underground and undersea cables should be treated more equally in EN-5.

For the second session, the witnesses were Malcolm Chilton of Covanta Energy (the only promoter with a 'live' application being considered by the Infrastructure Planning Commission), Peter Atherton, an analyst at Citibank, Matt Thomson from the Royal Town Planning Institute, Peter Haslam from the Nuclear Industry Association and Jane Smith from the UK Business Council for Sustainable Energy. Peter Atherton (who stressed his views were personal and not the corporate view of Citibank) gave a refreshing analysis of the energy industry and engaged well with the committee. The other witnesses did not get a chance to say that much, but most notably the other Peter disagreed with Peter Atherton.

Peter Atherton's analysis was essentially that energy companies look at risk arising from five stages of the process - planning, construction, electricity price, operation and decommissioning. Of these, the two that exercised their minds the most were construction and price, and planning was a relatively low risk matter (so have we been worrying unnecessarily?). The companies needed to offload the risk to the consumer or the taxpayer. He said that the chance of 16 gigawatts of new nuclear electricity production being built in the UK by 2025 was 'extraordinarily unlikely'. The two plants in Europe currently under construction, at Flamanville in France and Olkiluoto in Finland, were both late and over budget.

He also gave the comparative cost of each electricity-producing technology assuming a 15% 'cost of capital': gas £60/MWh, coal £80, onshore wind £80, nuclear £93 and offshore wind £150.

The committee asked about the impact of the Localism Bill in both sessions, but as it had only been published at 7 p.m. the previous day, I don't think its full effects on infrastructure planning had crystallised (other than the analysis on this blog, of course).

The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee now has until 17 January to publish its report on the revised NPSs.

More news of Parliamentary NPS scrutiny

It has just been announced that the House of Lords will consider the first five revised energy NPSs in a Grand Committee session on 11 January, and the sixth (the Nuclear Power NPS) in a session on 13 January.

Meanwhile, evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee on the draft Waste Water NPS must be submitted by 5 January. They will also be holding oral evidence sessions, but timings and witnesses have not yet been announced.

Localism Bill news

The Localism Bill, which implements changes to the infrastructure planning regime, was published on Monday. Explanatory notes, the official document explaining the provisions of the Bill, finally came out yesterday. They are usually published at the same time as a Bill; I have also noticed that the explanation of one of the infrastructure planning clauses - clause 114 - is out of order. Are these clues to the Bill being rushed out before it was ready?

One of the readers of this blog has noticed a minor drafting error in the Bill - section 107(9) of the Planning Act defines 'interested parties' for use in that section - they must be informed if the deadline for a decision on an application is being extended. The use of the term is being repealed (i.e. the interested parties no longer need to be told), but the definition is not. I have passed this on to the Department for Communities and Local Government. The definition will no doubt be removed via a government amendment to the Bill, but why should the Secretary of State not have to inform people when the Infrastructure Planning Commission did have to do so?

It was announced yesterday that the Bill is to have its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday 17 January. This will be the first major set-piece debate on the Bill.

On Monday, the government is due to make written statements (out of 20 expected that day) on both 'major infrastructure planning reform' and (conspicuous by its absence in the Localism Bill) 'the national planning policy framework'.

Here are a few briefings on the whole of the Bill that you may find useful - there actually isn't that much around on it yet:

Previous entry 198: Localism Bill - effect on infrastructure planning explained
Next entry 200: two NPSs may be dropped, other news and a Christmas champagne competition!

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