UK: UK Resists Further Infrastructure Authorisation Streamlining By The EU

Last Updated: 11 January 2012
Article by Angus Walker

This is entry number 309, published on 9 January 2012, 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 latest progress with EU proposals to streamline the energy consenting process.

Back in October, the European Commission issued a series of proposed regulations on energy, transport and communications networks. The energy regulation (although not the other two) proposed a streamlined consenting procedure for major projects that is stricter than the current Planning Act regime. The proposed regulation can be found here and it is articles 10 and 11 and Annex VI that are of particular interest.

This was reported in this blog entry, but in essence the proposals have the following additional requirements. They have interesting echoes of some of the issues that have been raised in relation to the current regime.

  • there is to be a two-year time limit for the pre-application stage and a one-year time limit for the application stage;
  • the authorising body can either decide everything or set out a timetable for it and other bodies to take all the relevant decisions within the overall time limits (so not necessarily a full one-stop shop, but at least a single deadline applying to all consents);
  • there is to be a two week acceptance hurdle for a promoter to be allowed to enter the pre-application stage;
  • the authorising body and the promoter are to meet in the first month of the pre-application stage, following which the authorising body shall decide the scope of the application documents;
  • the authorising body is to set out the authorisation process within 3 months of the start of the pre-application stage, including the timetable, stakeholders, and other consents;
  • a pre-application consultation summary document of no more than 15 pages is to be produced;
  • consultees are to be invited to meetings;
  • a project website is to be maintained with certain requirements as to its contents; and
  • the authorising body can ask for further information within one month of the application being made.

The House of Commons' European Scrutiny Committee considered the proposed regulations and sought reactions from the relevant government ministers. It produced a report on the proposals last month. The report can be found here.

The ministers resist the extent to which the common permitting procedure will go beyond the Planning Act regime. Treasury Minister Mark Hoban MP says (para 2.33 on page 21):

"in respect of measures in the field of permit granting, it will also be important to ensure that the timeframes and regulatory measures proposed in the draft TEN-E Regulation are sufficiently flexible to enable the UK to accommodate the advances that it has already made in this field and take account wherever possible of the UK's own pre-application and consent procedures"

Energy Minister Charles Hendry MP says (para 2.41 on page 24)

"in respect of permitting issues, the UK has already addressed several of the concerns reflected in this proposed Regulation (including the creation of a "one-stop shop" for granting the multiple permits required for some large infrastructure projects) in enactment in 2008 of the Planning Act and the subsequent designation of the energy National Policy Statements it will be important, therefore, to ensure that, during the course of negotiations, the timeframes and regulatory measures proposed in the Regulation are sufficiently flexible to enable the UK to accommodate the advances that it has already made in this field and take account wherever possible of the UK's own pre-application and consent procedures — the Government is working closely with other Member States, particularly France, Germany and the Netherlands, who also have concerns about the lack of flexibility with regard to the proposed permitting procedures"

I interpret this as meaning that whatever final procedure emerges, it should reflect the Planning Act regime with minimal change, although further changes are not entirely ruled out.

The committee then concludes that the scale of the EU's ambitions for all three networks is 'clearly unacceptable' (although this is more in terms of spending than procedure) and recommends that a three-hour debate is held on the proposals on the floor of the House of Commons, or failing that a four hour-debate is held in one of the European Committees.

Meanwhile, the proposed regulation is awaiting a date for a debate in the European Parliament. Don't be tripped up by changes to procedures - watch this space to keep up to date with these proposals to amend the regime for energy projects as they evolve.

Previous blog entry 308: infrastructure planning - what's coming in 2012, and a survey

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Angus Walker
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