UK: Trains And Drains But No Planes In Infrastructure Surge

Last Updated: 9 April 2013
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry is a round-up of developments on nationally significant infrastructure projects.

I was at the launch of an exhibition on infrastructure in London last night hosted by New London Architecture and entitled ' Planes, Drains and Trains'.  Recent developments on nationally significant infrastructure have been similar, with the notable exception of planes.  Here's a round up.

Mark Southgate, new Director of Major Applications and Plans, joked at a seminar last week that he had had a great start in his post, overseeing three decisions in his first nine days, where it had taken 18 months for the previous four decisions.  He was never going to keep that up, but there has been significant progress on other projects since then.

The decisions

On 12 March the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change granted consent for up to 28 wind turbines at Brechfa Forest West in Carmarthenshire being promoted by RWE Npower Renewables.  This breaks the 'curse of the dragon' where until then, no NSIP in Wales had managed to stay the course.

Just a week later, Ed Davey decided the largest project so far, the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset being promoted by EDF Energy.  That was one of the occasions when the iceberg of the Planning Act regime pokes above the surface into the national news.

On the very same day, the Secretary of State for Transport granted consent for the first highway project - the 4.8km Heysham to M6 Link Road in Lancashire promoted by Lancashire County Council.

The applications

At the other end of the timetable, five new applications have been made, three of which have been accepted with the other two pending.

The first two were actually re-applications, for the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal in Northamptonshire being promoted by the Rugby Radio Partnership and the Rampion wind farm off the Sussex coast being promoted by E.ON Climate and Renewables.  This time they were both accepted for examination.

The third has eclipsed Hinkley Point C in size and was accepted yesterday, for the Thames Tideway Tunnel in London being promoted by Thames Water.  This will update London's Victorian sewer system.  My favourite (well, only) London sewer system joke is that Sir Joseph Bazalgette was knighted for his work in pumping sewage out of people's homes, whereas his great-great-grandson Sir Peter, who introduced Big Brother to the UK, was knighted for the opposite.

The next step for all three of these applications will be the launch of the representation period, announced by notices in local and national newspapers and the ability to register on the Planning Inspectorate website.

Three or so weeks behind these, we have the Burbo Bank wind farm extension off the Merseyside coast being promoted by DONG Energy (Danish Oil and Natural Gas (in Danish), in case you were wondering).

Finally we have the North Killingholme power station on Humberside, which may become a coal-fired power station, being promoted by Belgian company C.Gen.

That last application brings the total number since records began to 30 (albeit for 28 projects, two of which had two applications).  We're only at the start of year 4 and we've nearly overtaken the IPC's prediction of 35 applications in the first year!

Other progress

The next batch of decisions will be in April and May, when the Preesall gas storage project in Lancashire, the Able Marine Energy Park on Humberside, and the Galloper wind farm off the Suffolk coast will be decided.

Behind them and in the same April/May period, inspectors are due to make recommendations on the East Northamptonshire waste facility, Triton Knoll windfarm off the Lincolnshire coast and the Blyth biomass station in Northumberland.

Just three applications are actually being examined at the moment: the M1 junction 10a improvement promoted by Luton Borough Council, the Redditch branch railway enhancement in Worcestershire and the King's Lynn power line in Norfolk.

Two more will start their examinations next month: the Stafford railway improvement project and the North London Reinforcement, another power line project.

And then we get to transport National Policy Statements

While there is no shortage of road, rail and rail freight terminal applications, the accompanying National Policy Statement (NPS) for roads is stuck in the slow lane. The latest position is that the DfT 'plans to prepare a National Policy Statement' once it has finished its work on 'carrying out a feasiblity study to review new ownership and financing models for the strategic road network'.

Finally, with no projects and no NPS, are airports.  The current position, as set out in the Airports Policy Framework published last Friday, is that the final report of the Airports Commission looking into hub capacity in the south east of the country is due out by the summer of 2015, and in it will be 'materials to support the government in preparing a National Policy Statement'. Later it says that the government is 'likely' to develop an NPS should it support any nationally significant airport infrastructure following the commission report,  and that it would contain principles for noise envelopes.

So these NPSs appear to be vying with each other to be the last, although the Water Supply NPS may yet have that honour, on which there is radio silence at present.

So the message is that infrastructure projects are moving forward apace, but policy is lagging behind.

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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