UK: Life Begins At 40 - Has The Planning Act Reached Steady State?

Last Updated: 11 October 2013
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry reports on the 40th project to be applied for under the Planning Act 2008 regime.

On Friday, ESBI made an application for a new power station in Knottingley, West Yorkshire, becoming the fortieth project to be the subject of an application. Time for a bit of comment and analysis, methinks.

The statistic itself has to be phrased carefully, because 42 applications have been made under the regime, but two lots of two were for the same projects (the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal extension and the Rampion offshore wind farm). So 40 projects, 42 applications. I'm a stickler for accuracy, which is what pedants call themselves.

The Planning Act regime covers 16 types of infrastructure, what are the scores on the doors?

  • Electricity generation: 21 - just over half the projects
  • Highway: 6
  • Railway: 4
  • Power line: 3
  • Gas pipeline: 1
  • Gas storage: 1
  • Harbour: 1
  • Hazardous waste: 1
  • Rail freight: 1
  • Waste water: 1

The remaining project types score zero so far: gas reception, LNG terminal, non-gas pipeline, airport, dam/reservoir, water transfer. It's not surprising that there aren't any of the last two project types, since the Planning Act has not been switched on for them yet. Come on Defra, let's have that final commencement order! Will the proposed business and commercial and nuclear waste categories beat those last two to it?

It's such a large category that we can break electricity generation into sub-categories according to what is making the electricity:

  • Offshore wind: 10 - a full 25% of all the projects
  • Fossil fuel: 4
  • Onshore wind:
  • 2 Biomass: 2
  • Waste: 2
  • Nuclear: 1

So a regime that a cynic might say (not me, of course) was invented to deliver a new generation of nuclear power stations and a new runway at Heathrow Airport is actually delivering a new generation of offshore wind farms. Here's something to be proud of: the UK has more offshore wind capacity than the rest of the world put together (3.6 gigawatts compared to 3.0 gigawatte), and that's not even counting any of the ten rojects mentioned above, as they haven't been built yet. And some of them are huge: between them they will more than double world capacity.

Steady state

Sir Mike Pitt, head of the Planning Inspectorate, spoke at a recent London First event and covered the national infrastructure regime. Incidentally, he is due to leave next April, and if you fancy applying for his job you can find details here. You have until 31 October.

Sir Mike has previously wondered when the Planning Act regime will reach 'steady state', i.e. roughly the same number of applications are entering the regime as leaving it. This has yet to be the case - more are arriving than leaving (and Rookery South never leaves) - but he showed a slide where towards the end of next year the number of applications expected to be in the system levelled off and even went down a bit. I feel entitled to mention his slide since he had adapted one of my graphics for his presentation.

That's not the end of the story, however, because on the same graph the number of prospective applications at that time was rising. Thus although there would appear to be the start of 'steady state' next year, the longer term picture is still likely to be one of growth. Recent threshold changes may reduce the numbers a bit, but forthcoming category expansions may counteract that.

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