European Union: EU Announces 'Projects Of Common Interest' To Use Planning Act-Like Regime

Last Updated: 15 October 2013
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry reports on a European Union announcement of energy projects that will use a speeded-up consenting regime, including 24 involving the UK.

Two years ago I reported on an EU initiative to speed up what it considered to be priority energy projects. Things have moved on a fair amount since then.

Earlier this year, the EU adopted a regulation to implement its proposals, which came into force on 1 June. Unlike directives, which then have to be implemented in the laws of each member state, regulations apply immediately and directly. The regulation is known as the new TEN-E Regulation, where TEN-E means Trans-European Networks (Energy) and can be found here.

Implementation timetable

The regulation contains a series of steps that the EU and member states must take.

  • The first step was that by 16 August, the EU had to issue guidance on streamlining environmental impact assessment for priority energy projects, known as 'projects of common interest', inevitably abbreviated to PCIs. The guidance was published on 24 July and can be found here.
  • The next step is that a list of PCIs has to be published by 30 September. Well, two weeks late isn't too bad - the list was published this morning, see below.
  • By 16 November 2013, each member state has to announce a single body that will be responsible for handline the authorisation of PCIs, although it can sub-contract this to other bodies for particular PCIs or types of PCI. The UK hasn't done this yet, but my money is on the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, or possibly the Planning Inspectorate.
  • By 14 April 2014, the EU must 'establish an infrastructure transparency platform', which I interpret as meaning 'create a website a bit like the infrastructure website on the Planning Portal'.
  • By 24 April 2014, each member state has to publish guidance on how it is streamlining environmental impact assessment for PCIs, and then by a year later make any necessary changes to legislation.
  • By 16 May 2014, each member state must publish a 'manual' about the authorisation process for PCIs.

Features of the regime

The three main features of the new EU regime for consenting PCIs may give you a case of déjà vu: fixed timescales, compulsory pre-application consultation and a one-stop shop. It is comforting that these are seen as the essential features of an efficient authorisation regime by another 27 countries, but each element is slightly different to the Planning Act we know and love.

First, there are time limits for the pre-application stage as well as the application stage. A project must take no more than two years between the authorising body being notified about it and an application being made, although this limit is only 'indicative'. In Planning Act-speak that's two years between a section 46 notification to the Planning Inspectorate and the making of an application, where there is currently no time limit. I'm not quite sure what happens if the time limit isn't met - the project can hardly be stopped from going ahead, but perhaps the government of the country in question is told off for not having an efficient system in place.

There is then a time limit of 18 months between the application being made and a decision at the end. As long as a Planning Act project takes no more than six months between application and preliminary meeting, it should meet that deadline - out of 12 decisions issued so far, only one has taken longer than 18 months, and that was just two days longer. The total period of three and a half years is supposedly mandatory, although it can be extended by up to another nine months.

Then there is the concept of pre-application consultation. This is a bit less one size fits all than the Planning Act, as the promoter is to submit its own proposals for pre-application consultation and then carry them out, a bit like the Statement of Community Consultation but without the other compulsory forms of consultation.

Finally, the one-stop shop. Like the Planning Act, it's not quite how it sounds, as member states can choose between an 'integrated approach', which is a true single consent decision, a 'co-ordinated approach' where a single body co-ordinates decisions taken by several bodies, and, importantly, can override them in some circumstances, or a 'collaborative approach' where there is co-ordinating but no overriding. The third one seems to be discouraged as a member state must give reasons to the EU for choosing that one.

It would seem that the Planning Act is already pretty much compliant with the process contemplated by the regulation, but does not match it exactly - something for the 2014 review, perhaps? Other regimes don't have these features, but a project could voluntarily adhere to them.

At the moment the regulation and the list of PCIs only apply to energy projects, but I can see it being extended to other types of infrastructure, notably transport, in due course. There is a TEN-T as well as a TEN-E.

List of projects

The list of 250 projects can be found here. There are 24 with a UK interest, listed by the six categories that could potentially involve the UK, summarised as follows.

Northern Seas offshore grid ('NSOG') (17 projects)

  • 1.1.1.: Interconnector between Richborough and Zeebrugge (Belgium)
  • 1.1.2.: Substation in Richborough and circuit between Richborough and Canterbury
  • 1.1.3.: Circuit between Canterbury, Sellindge and Dungeness
  • 1.2.: Two offshore hubs in Zeebrugge, for potential future UK interconnections
  • 1.7.1: Interconnector between Exeter and Cotentin (France) via the island of Alderney
  • 1.7.2.: Interconnector between Chilling and Tourbe (France)
  • 1.7.3.: Interconnector between Folkestone and Coquelles (France)
  • 1.9.1.: Interconnector between Pembroke, Pentir and Offaly (Ireland)
  • 1.9.2.: Interconnector between Hunterston, Islay and Coolkeeragh/Coleraine (Ireland)
  • 1.9.3.: Interconnector betwenn Trawsfynydd, Pembroke, Dublin (Ireland) and CodlingBank (Ireland)
  • 1.9.4.: Interconnector between Pembroke and the Irish midlands
  • 1.9.5.: Interconnector between Alverdiscott and the Irish midlands
  • 1.9.6.: Interconnector between Pembroke and the Irish coast
  • 1.10.: Interconnector between the UK and Norway
  • 1.11.2.: Interconnector between the West Midlands and north west Ireland
  • 1.11.4.: Interconnector between Connah's Quay and Glinsk (Ireland)
  • 1.12.: Compressed air energy storage at Larne

North-South electricity interconnections in Western Europe ('NSI West Electricity') (two projects)

  • 2.13.1.: A circuit between Turleenan and Woodland (Ireland)
  • 2.13.2.: A circuit between Turleenan and Srananagh (Ireland)

North-South gas interconnections in Western Europe ('NSI West Gas') (four projects)

  • 5.1.1: Reverse flow at the Moffat interconnection point, from the UK to Ireland, the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland
  • 5.1.2: Upgrading of the Twynholm to Ballylumford pipeline
  • 5.1.3: New salt cavity gas storage at Larne
  • 5.2 Reinforcing the transmission system between Cluden and Brighouse Bay

Smart grids deployment (one project)

  • 10.1.: The North Atlantic Green Zone project (UK and Ireland)

Electricity highways (none)

Cross-border carbon dioxide network (none)

This exercise seems to me a case of the EU catching up with the UK in terms of infrastructure planning and consenting. The EU proposals are an interesting take on the essential elements of our regime and we might usefully examine them for the features they suggest. Indeed, it would seem odd to tweak the regime in the UK for PCIs only and leave other nationally significant infrastructure projects with a different regime.

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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