UK: Busy New Year For IPC But Where Is The Pipeline?

Last Updated: 18 January 2012
Article by Angus Walker

This is entry number 310, published on 13 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 progress with live and up-and-coming Infrastructure Planning Commission projects.

'Live' projects

Yesterday, the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) accepted its eleventh application for examination.  Not only is this by far the highest number of 'live' applications to date, but its ratio of accepted to rejected applications has risen from 1:1 after two applications to 11:1 after 12 applications.  In other words it has still only rejected one. 

In April, the Localism Act changes will lower the acceptance threshold from strict compliance with the Act and regulations to a standard that is 'satisfactory', so the likelihood of applications being rejected should become even lower.

Of the 11 accepted applications, one has been withdrawn (Brig y Cwm) and one has been approved (Rookery South), although the latter is still undergoing Special Parliamentary Procedure.  Including Rookery South, there are therefore ten either live or positively decided applications, a round number to examine in more detail.

The ten applications can be found on the IPC's this link.  They are no match for Stephen Fry, but they do record essential progress on each application.

Breaking the applications down into the 16 possible types covered by the Planning Act, we find that five have been ticked off the list so far:

  • five x 'the construction or extension of a generating station' (two offshore windfarms, one onshore windfarm, one nuclear power station, one energy from waste facility);
  • one x 'development relating to underground gas storage facilities';
  • one x 'highway-related development';
  • one x 'the construction or alteration of harbour facilities'; and
  • two x 'the construction or alteration of a railway'.

I mention in passing that Bircham Dyson Bell is acting for promoters in three of these categories so we are getting good practical experience as well as talking the talk through this blog and the like.  The other 11 categories of project are as yet unapplied for, but a few are on the up-and-coming list.  Nowhere to be seen are airports, reservoirs and more obscure energy installations such as LNG terminals.

Forthcoming projects

So the good news is that the IPC is now busy and that experience of the new regime is much more widespread than it was even three months ago.  This should encourage promoters to come forward with applications (although there are other steps that could be taken on that score).

What is of a little more concern is that the 'pipeline' of future applications is not growing so quickly.  In fact according to my records not a single new project has appeared on the overall list of projects for over two months.  Let's look at that in a little more detail.

The IPC project list contains 76 entries - a healthy number, it would appear.  We can break this down into six categories.  The first is the single project that has emerged from the system with approval - Rookery South.  The second are the nine live ones analysed above; the third are marked as 'archived', i.e. ones that are no longer being considered.  Not including Rookery South, there are 11 on the list in this category, which have all been withdrawn for one reason or another.

Of the remaining projects, none can proceed unless they have carried out pre-application consultation, and a further ten have at least started to do so. Ones that are further behind can be divided in two - a common first step is to ask the IPC either for a screening opinion (i.e. asking if the project needs to undergo environmental impact assessement (EIA)) or a scoping opinion (i.e. asking the IPC what EIA should cover).  A further 24 projects have done this, leaving 21 that have taken no formal steps towards an application being made. 

By the way, the IPC has now issued three screening opinions and in each case was of the view that the project did not need EIA (of course only promoters who hope that their projects do not need EIA will ask for a screening opinion, so the IPC has agreed each time so far).  Obtaining a scoping opinion is not mandatory - three promoters have at least started pre-application consultation without doing so and one of these has made an accepted application (Brechfa Forest windfarm).  Nevertheless it is a good guide as to project progress.

In summary, then, in order of 'furthest ahead' we have:

  • one approved application (category 1),
  • nine live applications (2),
  • ten projects that have started pre-application consultation (3),
  • 24 projects that have asked for a screening/scoping opinion (4),
  • 21 projects yet to take a formal step (5), and
  • 11 dead projects (6).

Table by category by project type:

Type 1 2 3 4 5 6
Gen - barrage           1
Gen - biomass     2 1 2 1
Gen - energy from waste 1         1
Gen - fossil fuel       3 3 2
Gen - nuclear   1   2 2  
Gen - offshore windfarm   2 2 7 1  
Gen - onshore windfarm   1 2 2 3 1
Power line       4 5 2
Gas storage   1        
Gas pipeline       1    
Other pipeline         1  
Highway   1 2   2 3
Harbour   1        
Railway   2 1 2 1  
Rail freight interchange       1    
Waste water       1 1  
Hazardous waste     1      

On the face of it this is encouraging, but a slightly different picture emerges if you compare the figures with a few months ago.  By my calculations, the number of projects that have started pre-application consultation but have not made an application has fallen slightly (there are now 10 when there were 13 six months ago).  Perhaps more concerning is that 27 screening/scoping opinions were sought in 2010, but only 15 were sought in 2011.

So what to make of it?  It is great to see the IPC handling a larger number of applications, but we should also keep an eye on the pipeline of future applications, which is emptier than it was a year ago.  Laurels should therefore not be rested upon and the process should continue to be examined for improvements that will encourage project promoters to come forward.

Previous blog entry 309: UK resists further infrastructure authorisation streamlining by the EU
Next blog entry 311: more of Localism Act 2011 comes into force

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Angus Walker
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