Today's entry is the final look at the current thresholds in
the Planning Act 2008 for nationally significant infrastructure
Previous entries have looked at the seven thresholds for energy
projects and the five thresholds for transport projects.
There are four remaining project types to look at today.
The threshold for waste water is the only one that has been
amended so far since the Planning Act came into force. The original
threshold was for sewage works that were able to process the, um,
output of at least 500,000 people. That's a pretty high
threshold - I think that the number of sewage works currently of
that size is in single figures.
The threshold was then extended to include waste water transfer
and storage. This was really to capture the Thames Tunnel, but the
height of the threshold was based on the much smaller Lee Tunnel
(about 1/5 of the capacity of the Thames Tunnel), so it may mean
that other projects around the country are caught. I have
given ignorance a second star for this reason, as I think all the
focus is on the Thames Tunnel.
There is no general waste facility threshold, just one for
hazardous waste (and energy from waste in the energy field).
This is an ability to dispose of 100,000 tonnes of waste per year
in landfill or deep storage, or 30,000 tonnes per year for any
other form of recovery or final disposal.
The threshold is simply expressed but somewhat difficult to
apply. First, it applies to a huge variety of different types
of facility, from ship recycling to soil washing, and a huge
variety of hazardousness in terms of percentage of waste that is
technically 'hazardous' in the overall waste handled, and
the level of hazard. Secondly, waste facilities are not
usually measured in terms of tonnes of waste per year.
Landfill consents are currently expressed in the number of cubic
metres that can be filled up, with an associated end date for how
long the consent lasts (which can often be extended by a later
Dams and reservoirs
The last two thresholds are somewhat academic at the moment
since they have not been 'switched on' yet - i.e.
applications above the threshold cannot use the new regime
yet. Thus the 'height' of the threshold is
effectively infinite at the moment as no projects are yet caught by
it. When it does come in, it is volume-based - the amount of
water in the reservoir or held back by a dam for a new facility, or
the quantum of increase of an existing facility, is set at 10
million cubic metres (mcm), or 10,000 megalitres. Rutland
Water is 124 million cubic metres (mcm) in size to give you an idea
of the height of the threshold.
Transfer of water resources
Finally, also not yet commenced, is the transfer of water
between one water basin or one water company and another.
This was mooted during recent drought conditions in part of the
country while it was raining in another, although the threshold
does not apply to drinking water.
Unusually this threshold is expressed as the amount expected to
be transferred, rather than the capacity of the facility, namely
100 mcm. So that's 10 nationally significant
reservoirsful per year.
So that concludes a summary of the current 16 thresholds in the
Planning Act. It is of course not possible to create a
threshold that is perfectly clear cut in every situation, but there
is certainly a broad range in clear-cutness amongst these, aside
from the question of whether they are too high or too low.
To vary the definitions of these thresholds does not need
primary legislation, as long as the thresholds stay within the five
'fields' of energy, transport, water, waste and waste
water. The government is looking both to review the
thresholds and extend the fields through a combination of secondary
and primary legislation, with public consultation as
appropriate. Watch this space.
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