This is entry number 257, published on 5 July 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Today’s entry reports on further consultation on the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

EDF Energy has published a third notice of pre-application consultation for its proposed new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

On 9 July 2010, it published its first notice, for a consultation period running until 4 October 2010.  The consultation notice is here.

On 25 February 2011, it published a second notice, for a consultation period running until 28 March 2011.  The second notice is here.

Last Friday, 1 July, EDF Energy launched a third consultation, which runs until 12 August.  The third notice can be found here (page 1, page 2)

In the second and third cases, changes have been made to the project in response to the previous consultation, and EDF Energy is reconsulting on the revised project.  The second consultation did not mention that there had been an earlier consultation, but the third states that it is a consultation on material changes to the project.

Zeno's Paradox of Pre-Application Consultation

This illustrates what I would like to dub the Zeno's Paradox of Pre-application Consultation.  If you remember, Zeno noted that in a race, one runner could theoretically never overtake another one, because every time the runner got to where the one ahead of him was, the other runner had moved on a little - a smaller amount each time, but an infinite number of smaller amounts.  It is also known as the Achilles and the tortoise paradox, where Achilles is trying to overtake the tortoise.

When it comes to pre-application consultation, the same paradox seems to be occurring.  A promoter consults on project A, and receives feedback.  The promoter changes the project as a result of the feedback and is then worried that it cannot apply for the changed project without re-consulting, because the IPC might throw it out for not having consulted on the project actually applied for.  It therefore carries out a second consultation on what is now Project B.  Some further small changes are made as a result.  The paranoid promoter then reconsults on what is now Project C, and so on, never managing to match the project that was consulted upon with the project that is applied for.

Zeno's original paradox has a solution (for the mathematically minded, see below) but the only solution to the pre-application paradox is either to keep consulting until no changes are made as a result of the consultation, or take the plunge and apply for a project that is slightly different from the one consulted upon and risk it being rejected.

Some guidance from the Secretary of State or the IPC might be helpful on the circumstances in which an application might be rejected for a project that is too different from the one consulted upon.

Zeno's Paradox solution

The answer to Zeno's Paradox is that although there are indeed an infinite number of steps, they take a finite time.  For example, the series consisting of one second plus half a second plus a quarter of a second etc. has an infinite number of steps, but after two seconds it is finished, and the rear runner actually overtakes the front runner.  The same cannot be said for pre-application consultation, since the time to consult cannot get shorter than 28 days, and so it could go on for ever.

And finally, thank you for your support in securing me a place at the heady position of 28= in the league table of 'top rated [planning] solciitors 2011'.