On 26 November 2008, the Planning Act received Royal Assent. The Act introduces a new system for approving major infrastructure of national importance, such as power stations, construction of underground gas storage facilities and pipelines, upgrades to the National Grid and waste facilities. It will replace current regimes under several pieces of legislation. The objective is to streamline planning decisions and avoid long public inquiries.

ACCELERATION OF RENEWABLE GREEN ENERGY? 

Community Secretary Hazel Blears has said that the Act paves the way for creating the 'faster, fairer planning system we need to reduce our fossil fuel addiction and build up a new generation of renewable energy infrastructure sources like wind power.' She went on to say that 'many low carbon power sources will now get faster approval, and the country could save £300m a year.'

In order to create the new system, nationally significant infrastructure will be dealt with under a single consent regime under which:

  • the Government will set out the case for infrastructure in areas such as energy, aviation, road and rail transport, water and waste in National Policy Statements integrating social, economic and environmental policies;
  • developers will be required to consult local communities and other key stakeholders prior to submitting applications, and to conduct environmental assessments where required by EIA regulations;
  • decisions on nationally significant applications will be made by an independent Infrastructure Planning Commission, within the framework of the National Policy Statements; and
  • inquiries and decisions will be subject to statutory timetables.

The Department for Communities and Local Government highlighted that 'the current system has been failing the British public. Today there is enough renewable energy capacity clogged up in the England and Wales planning system to power 1.5 million homes. Planning [Act] measures mean that it could be decided more quickly and fairly.'

But Friends of the Earth did not welcome the Act, calling it "undemocratic" and likely to cause direct action reminiscent of 1980s road protests. The green group's planning campaigner, Dr Hugh Ellis, said: "The Planning Bill is not strong enough to ensure that climate change is properly considered in decisions about major projects such as airports, roads and power stations." 

GOING FORWARD

We will wait to see if the Planning Act delivers on the Governments promises. In the New Year, the Government will set out a timetable detailing how the Infrastructure Planning Commission will be set up, and will consult on the detailed regulations and National Policy Statements to implement the new system.