UK: 500 Days Later - Rookery South Special Parliamentary Procedure To Finish

Last Updated: 19 February 2013
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry reports on the completion of special parliamentary procedure for the first application to be given consent under the Planning Act 2008.

Once upon a time, a company called Covanta Energy applied for permission to build an energy from waste plant at Rookery South near Bedford - on 5 August 2010, in fact. This was the first application to be accepted by the then Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) (but not the first to be made - it rejected the first application made to it, for an electric line in south Wales).

434 days later - 1 year, 2 months and 8 days - and following all the procedures for accepting, making representations on, examining and deciding applications under the Planning Act, the IPC gave consent to the project. That was 13 October 2011.

Unfortunately for Covanta, the Development Consent Order (DCO) authorising the project contained provisions to acquire land from a local authority compulsorily, and it had objected. This triggered 'special parliamentary procedure' under the Planning Act, where the DCO was referred to parliament for a second process of objecting ('petitioning'), considering of objections and making a recommendation - yes, doing the whole thing again.

503 days after that - 1 year, 4 months and 14 days - on 27 February 2013, the committee that considered the petitions is to publish its report, which will say that the DCO should be made unamended, thereby ending special parliamentary procedure. The fact that no changes were made at all is a little galling, but I understand that an agreement was made between the petitioners and the promoter about contributing to a proposed waterway, so the effect of SPP was not entirely zero.


Why did it take so long? Here is a short chronology of the Rookery South SPP, for the record:

  • 13 Oct 11 - DCO made by the IPC
  • 29 Nov 11 - DCO laid before Parliament by Chris Huhne, inviting petitions
  • 19 Dec 11 - 39 petitions made by deadline (two each by 17 parish councils and two local authorities, one by Waste Recycling Group (WRG))
  • 10 Jan 12 - 78 'memorials' made by the government and Covanta (i.e. each of them against each petition) arguing that the petitions should not be accepted (we drafted the government ones)
  • 08 Mar 12 - hearing into whether petitioners should be accepted as having sufficient standing takes place
  • 01 May 12 - Lords and Commons chairmen decide to accept five of the 39 petitions (the local authority and WRG ones)
  • 27 May 12 - possibility of annulling the order at this stage expires
  • 25 Jun 12 - joint committee of three MPs (Brian Binley, Bill Esterson and Paul Uppal) and three peers (Lords Dear, Faulkner and Geddes) appointed
  • 04 Jul 12 - committee first meets - Brian Binley MP appointed chair
  • 13 Jul 12 - committee decides to consider full application, not just SPP trigger issue
  • 24 Oct 12 - committee starts sitting on Wednesdays to hear petitions
  • 12 Dec 12 - committee finishes hearing evidence from petitioners after seven hearings
  • 19 Dec 12 - committee dismisses three petitions as having 'no case to answer' and limits the other two to one issue (see transcript, right at the end)
  • 13 Feb 13 - committee satisfied that final issue dealt with
  • 27 Feb 13 - committee to lay its report before both Houses of Parliament

The future

On the very same day, the report stage of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill will start, although it won't reach the infrastructure provisions until 12 March. The Bill will remove the particular trigger that triggered SPP for Rookery South and will limit parliamentary consideration to the trigger issue only (i.e. the 13 July decision above will no longer be possible), but it won't remove all of the triggers. Indeed, there are rumours that it will add in a new trigger relating to inland waterways.

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill is to have its third reading on 20 March. It will then need to go back to the Commons to agree the amendments made in the Lords, but after that it will be ready for Her Majesty's signature. The SPP reduction provisions are planned to apply to any applications made after 18 October 2012.

So after all that, all that has happened is a long delay and a bit of cash changing hands. It has, however, prompted the government to legislate to reduce SPP (choosing not to do so during the Localism Bill, a concrete example had to come along - thank you, Covanta!). SPP lives, however, fully applying to existing applications, and applying in a limited way to future ones. We shall see if it occupies any honourable members' time in the future.

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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