UK: First Planning Act Threshold Raised

Last Updated: 2 July 2013
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry reports on the first raising of a Planning Act threshold to come into force, on electric lines.

The Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and consenting regime applies to 16 different types of infrastructure project across the five fields of energy, transport, water, waste and waste water.  For each type of project, the Act sets out a threshold above which the project must use the Planning Act to get consent - it is a criminal offence otherwise.

The drafters of the original Act allowed the thresholds to be changed without further primary legislation, using Orders of the Secretary of State.  They are not your common or garden order, though, as they use the 'affirmative procedure' and must be positively approved by each House of Parliament before they can come into force.

If you want a collective term for such threshold-changing orders, you can call them 'section 14 Orders', as that is the section of the Planning Act that contains the relevant powers.

On Tuesday, the first section 14 Order to raise a threshold came into force.  It is however the second section 14 Order all told, as there was one previously which could be said to have lowered, or at least widened, the threshold for waste water projects to include the Thames Tideway Tunnel.


The changes that the order brings about were reported in this blog entry.  Essentially they introduce a 2km minimum length, and uprating existing lines with ones that aren't too much higher or further away than the original are also exempt.  DECC puts it thus:

The Secretary of State at DECC has made new regulations amending the overhead lines threshold in the Planning Act 2008, which came into effect on 18 June 2013.  The effect of this change is that minor works to overhead lines at 132kV and above in England and Wales are now consented under the Electricity Act 1989 regime, rather than the Planning Act 2008 regime.

For the record, here are the steps that the electric line order took from start to finish and when they occurred.

  • 18 October 2012 - consultation launched on amending electric lines threshold with proposed draft order
  • 12 November 2012 - consultation 'stakeholder event' held
  • 28 November 2012 - consultation closes
  • 10 April 2013 - draft order laid before both Houses of Parliament
  • 15 May 2013 - Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (JCSI) considers Order but makes no comments
  • 4 June 2013 - debate in the Grand Committee of the House of Lords
  • 11 June 2013 - House of Lords approves the Order
  • 11 June 2013 - debate in the Third Delegated Legislation Committee of the House of Commons
  • 12 June 2013 - House of Commons approves the Order
  • 17 June 2013 - final order comes into force

So that's eight months from start to finish.  That is quicker than the waste water order, which took nearly a year, from 13 July 2011 to 23 June 2012.

Other threshold changes

As mentioned above, the waste water threshold was widened to include storage and transfer of waste water, to enable - require, in fact - the Thames Tideway Tunnel to use the Planning Act regime, although it also means that any similar projects that are about 20% of the size of the TTT or greater are included.

The highway and railway thresholds are also being changed and are currently undergoing the 'affirmative procedure' in Parliament.  The order has got as far as the JCSI considering it on 5 June.  It is expected to come into force before Parliament rises for its summer holidays on 18 July, which looks about right given the chronology above.

The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 has extended the Planning Act regime to non-infrastructure, business and commercial projects.  This extension will only become effective, however, when a corresponding order is laid to set out the types of project and the thresholds attached to them.  The order is expected to be laid before Parliament 'by October', and undergo the same process as above.

The government responded to a consultation on this issue this morning and this will be the subject of a blog post next week.  Meanwhile, you can find the response document here.

And finally

The three government departments responsible for infrastructure (DECC, DfT, Defra) really need to get their (planning) act together when it comes to naming these section 14 orders consistently.  They have now got one each and they are all different:

The same goes for the naming of development consent orders, but that's a topic for another day.

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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