UK: Infrastructure Project Progress - Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow

Last Updated: 31 July 2012
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry is a round-up of news on some selected larger infrastructure projects - and a late National Policy Statement or two.

National Policy Statement delays

The ninth National Policy Statement (NPS) in the pipeline, that for hazardous waste, is to take 'a few more months' past this autumn before it is ready to be finalised ('designated').  That was the message communicated to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee via an interim response by the government to the committee's report on the draft of the NPS. The response can be found here.

The reason for the delay is that the comments received from consultees and the recommendations of the committee have raised 'important, and in some cases complicated' issues.

Having said that, as with other types of project, the lack of an NPS doesn't affect the obligation to make applications under the Planning Act for above-threshold projects.  Indeed, one is in progress - the East Northamptonshire Resource Management Facility - and is having its preliminary meeting on Thursday.

I have also learned that the need for one of the possible future NPSs, that of Water Supply, will be reviewed by Defra in 2013/14, when it will also review whether to 'switch on' the Planning Act for the final two types of infrastructure project, water transfer and dams/reservoirs.

Rookery South Special Parliamentary Procedure

As previously reported (almost) ad nauseam the first, and still only, application to get a favourable decision from the Infrastructure Planning Commission (or its successor) is now stuck in Parliament having to undergo an extra process due to the compulsory acquisition of some local authority land.

Two developments mean that this may take even more of a while than previously reported.  The first is that the committee of MPs and peers looking at the project decided at their meeting on 11 July to meet once a week starting on 24 October, which is admittedly the next but one Wednesday on which both Houses are sitting.  The second is that the committee has decided to look at all aspects of the project that the petitioners (objectors) are objecting to, rather than just the issue that triggered the SPP, the compulsory acquisition.  So that's policy, need, alternatives, the lot - many of the things that the Planning Act was supposed to avoid reconsideration of when it came to individual applications.

Hinkley Point C takes two steps forward

The proposed Hinkley Point C (HPC) nuclear power station in Somerset took two steps forward last week when two side applications were granted.  First, an application was granted under the Transport and Works Act 1992 to allow land adjacent to Bridgwater Bay to be acquired for the purposes of building a temporary jetty that would be used during the construction of the power station.  The decision letter can be found here. Despite being technically a transport application, it was made to and decided by the Department for Energy and Climate Change.  The only change to the order since it was applied for was to add some land belonging to the Environment Agency to it.

Secondly, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) has simultaneously approved an application under the Harbours Act 1964 to build the jetty itself, as well as two other consents to deposit the jetty on the sea bed and to dredge material for a berth next to the jetty and deposit it (you need consent to put things on the sea bed whether they be structures or disposed material).  The 'decision report' can be found here.  Quite a few changes were made to this order, including its title, starting at the bottom of page 12 of the report.

One advantage of the Planning Act regime is that all these applications can be wrapped up in a single application under the Act.  Why didn't EdF Energy do that, you may ask?  Well they did, in fact, as well as applying separately.  They took this twin-track approach to speed things up if the separate consents could be granted - having been so, they can now start building the jetty even though the main application has not yet been granted - but they also kept it as a single application in case the powers that be decided that it should all be decided together.

EdF have planned for how the main application will now have the jetty parts removed - they did the same thing for preparatory works which were granted by a separate planning application.  What if the main application was refused but the jetty works were in progress?  The MMO agreed with the inspector who examined the applications who said "If the jetty were developed but not HPC, there would be environmental harm. However, the harm would exist to a much lesser degree and over a much shorter period than the very substantial gains that would be achieved if the jetty were developed and it operated to assist the construction of HPC."

Thames Tunnel in final flush of pre-application consultation

Now that the Thames Tunnel 'supersewer' is officially a Planning Act project it is undertaking the third strand of pre-application consultation, namely general publicity about the project under section 48 of the Act, where they have given a generous consideration time given that it is over the summer - it has a closing date of 5 October.  The consultation documents can be found here.

This stage follows two previous general consultation stages and recent 'targeted consultations' at four of the proposed surface sites along the river (Barn Elms, and Putney, Victoria and Albert Embankments) which finished 12 days before this final stage started.  When the project became a Planning Act project, things done already in compliance with the Planning Act were allowed to stand as if they had been done under the Act.

A lot of information has been published - 466 pages of plans, for example - so perhaps the long period is just as well.  Thames Water can't be faulted for the amount of material they are providing (but now that I am acting for an objector to the project they may get faulted on other things).  At the first consultation stage the application was to be made in 'mid 2012', and this is now 'early 2013'.

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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