The Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) was brought into existence to consider, and eventually decide, applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects. It opened for advice in October 2009 and applications had to be made to it from 1 March 2010. The provisions of the Localism Bill mean that it will cease to exist, and this is expected to happen on 1 April 2012.
At that time, the IPC will become part of the Planning Inspectorate. Its working title is to be the Major Infrastructure Projects Unit, although this may eventually become another name such as the National Infrastructure Directorate. It will lose its decision-making powers, which will pass to the government.
Now that the IPC only has ten months of its existence remaining, if it accepts any applications from now on, there will not be enough time for it to decide them by the date of its demise. This means that the two applications already before it are the only ones that it could decide, and even then, it will only do so if the energy National Policy Statements (NPSs) are finalised ('designated') in time.
The Planning Act is not clear about when the last opportunity is during the consideration of an application for an NPS to be designated and thus for the IPC to take the decision on the application. It would seem that it is likely to be the end of the examination period, because then the IPC has different roles depending on whether there is or is not an NPS in place. If there is, it has three months to make a decision on the application, and if there is not, it has three months to make recommendation to the government.
The two applications before the IPC are both for energy from waste facilities, both promoted by Covanta Energy - one is at Rookery South in Bedfordshire and the other is at Brig y Cwm in Merthyr Tydfil.
For the Rookery South application to be decided by the IPC, the energy NPSs would have to be designated by 15 July, and for the Brig y Cwm application to be decided by it, the NPSs would have to be designated by 8 December.
Given the glacial progress of the NPSs so far, coupled with the further delay occasioned by the damage to the Fukushima nuclear power station, the 15 July date is looking unlikely, but the December date is still achieveable, and the three months following that date falls 23 days before the IPC's date of demise.
My prediction is that the IPC will decide this single application for the Brig y Cwm facility. It would be a shame if it did not decide any.
The 8 December date for Brig y Cwm is calculated because the preliminary meeting is now to be held in Merthyr Tydfil next week, on 7 June. This triggers the six month examination period, which must end six months and a day later. A full examination timetable is now available at Annex C of this letter.
A big turnout is expected at the preliminary meeting given that there were nearly 10,000 objections to this application. Despite the strict requirements in legislation for an objection to be considered a 'relevant representation', I understand that all but 500 or so of these satisfied the criteria and thus give the objectors rights such as being able to call for an open floor hearing.