This is entry number 121, first published on 6 April 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.
Today’s entry reports on applications for energy infrastructure in the last week of February.
The new regime for authorising nationally significant energy and transport projects came into force on 1 March. Figures recently released by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) show the number of applications made to them in the months leading up to that date. What does this show about promoters' attitudes to the new regime?
DECC received seven applications for energy projects in the last week of February. I think this counts as a flurry because no more then two applications had previously been received in the same week of the live ones listed on their webaite. Furthermore, no applications have been made to the IPC so far since 1 March.
The flurry may at first appear to show a lack of confidence in the new regime, but I don't think it does. For a start, only five of the applications would have gone to the IPC had they been made the following week (the sixth was for a sort of catalytic converter for an existing power station, and the seventh was for an outbuilding at Sizewell nuclear power station), but five is still significant. The five applications that would have been IPC applications were two gas-fired power stations, an on-shore windfarm, an energy from waste plant and an extension to an existing biomass plant.
What it may well mean is that promoters of smaller and less controversial applications that previously had fairly straightforward consenting regimes thought that they would get their consents faster under the old regime.
Larger and more controversial applications, such as for nuclear power stations, will not have been in any hurry to beat the IPC deadline: indeed such projects are the ones that the new regime is principally there to speed up the process for. The combination of the NPS to take the sting out of the need argument when an application is made, and the streamlined application process meaning decisions taken about a year from applications (albeit with more work before the application is made) will be welcome news to these larger projects of significant national benefit but with potentially severe local impacts.
Also, given the front-loading of the process, those applying at the end of February couldn't just have tweaked their application and applied to the IPC a week later; they would have had to carry out the panoply of consultation and other pre-application requirements, which would have meant applying months later. Thus although the time taken from application to decision is quicker under the new regime (and according to Sir Mike Pitt, chair of the IPC, also quicker from inception to decision since things are more likely to be done in the right order), if you have already started the pre-application process (such as it is) under the old regime you would incur a delay switching regimes.
Another difference with the previous regime for energy infrastructure is that there only needs to be a public inquiry if the local authority objects, but for the new regime there will be a hearing (less formal than an inquiry) if any objector asks for one. The applicants for the five would-have-been IPC applications may have secured the support of the local authority and are therefore counting on avoiding the step of having an inquiry.
It will be interesting to see when the five applications get consent - and whether this is before 1 March 2011, the approximate limit of the statutory timetable for the new regime. If the applications are to beat the IPC's target of a 35 week average, this would mean they should get consent by 1 December 2010.