UK: Planning Act Blog 205: First Planning Act Application Examination Gets Under Way

Last Updated: 18 January 2011
Article by Angus Walker

This is entry number 205, first published on 17 January 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. 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 start of the examination of the first Planning Act project.

Today is a momentous day in the life of the Planning Act regime - the first ever public meeting held for an application took place, and the first Parliamentary debate on its successor legislation, the Localism Bill, takes place later.

This morning I attended the first of these - the first 'preliminary meeting' to be held under the regime, for the Covanta energy from waste plant in Bedfordshire. The meeting was held at the Park Inn, Bedford (I note in passing that its gym had the great name of 'innactive'). There were about 100 people present for what the lead commissioner, Paul Hudson, described as 'an unusual and significant event in planning history'.

The preliminary meeting is essentially a housekeeping meeting, discussing things like the timetable for examining the application, but there was a fair amount of discussion of what those present saw as the main issues, which gave them an excuse to restate parts of their objections. The IPC has issued an FAQ about it.

The proceedings were fairly informal, with Paul Hudson gently keeping the speakers to the subject that they had been asked. Most called the panel of three commmissioners 'sirs' (or just 'sir' for Paul Hudson) but one objector called them 'you guys'.

Central Bedfordshire Council and Bedford Borough Council (the application straddles the boundary of the two) appeared jointly and took on the de facto role of chief opponent to the application, seated on the Commissioners' right. Covanta Energy, the promoter, took up positions on the Commissioners' left. One objector suggested that local people could feel excluded by the arrangement.

After some introductory remarks, Paul Hudson in the Chair asked for representations on three things. First, he asked whether the IPC's list of (five) principal issues was complete (see Appendix D of this letter). Many issues were suggested, most of which were probably sub-issues of the ones already identified by the IPC. One new one was the drafting of the development consent order and associated requirements (conditions) and section 106 agreement; others were flooding, air quality, health issues from non-accidental emissions (the last being greeted with a round of applause), and the need for the development given that (allegedly) it may not have as many customers as claimed.

The second question was whether there should be any 'specific issue hearings'. This is the only of three types of hearing that is at the IPC's discretion - the other two types (compulsory purchase hearings and open floor hearings) must be held if anyone asks for them, and they will certainly be held on this application. Paul Hudson said that the panel's initial view was that there need not be any. One objector said that there would be civil unrest if there weren't any - will Bedford be the new Tunis? This is one area where the IPC's approach will be keenly watched for the future as to which arguments succeed and which fail.

Of course all sorts of topics were suggested as suitable for such hearings. Even the promoter suggested that the text of the development consent order etc. should be the subject of a hearing. Interestingly, no-one suggested that a hearing should be held to test the other side's evidence, only so that the suggester's own evidence could be put better. We will find out by Friday if any arguments succeeded, but Paul Hudson reserved the right to revisit the issue later.

After a coffee break (£1.75 for a coffee!) conveniently held when the PA system broke down, the third question was on whether the proposed timetable was adequate (at Appendix C to this letter). There was not much opposition to the proposal, some people asking for more time, and the councils' lawyer suggesting that the IPC should give longer to respond to others' written submissions if it was late in publishing them.

Two final points - first, the promoter's barrister mentioned some additional material from them that the IPC had not put onto its website, including a supplementary environmental statement addressing the chimney being 105m high rather than 100m high and a supplementary consultation report giving more detail on the provenance of the representations made. Secondly, the councils' lawyer asked that the IPC bear in mind allowing additional evidence if the relevant National Policy Statement, currently in draft, got finalised towards the end of (or after) the examination process, since the tests for deciding applications would change.

The IPC will publish any decisions arising and its final timetable by Friday 21 January. There were already two additions - accompanied site visits on 4 February and 12 July. The meeting finished more or less on time at 1.05 p.m.

The holding of the meeting means that the examination must be complete by 18 July, being six months and a day later.

Previous entry 204: Lords still unhappy with energy National Policy Statements

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