This is entry number 113, first published on 17 March 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Today's entry analyses the Transport Select Committee's report on the Ports National Policy Statement.

The Ports National Policy Statement (NPS) was issued in draft on 9 November 2009 and when it is designated (finalised), it will form the basis for decisions on nationally significant ports infrastructure in England and Wales by the new Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC).

Today, the Transport Select Committee of the House of Commons, having held three evidence sessions earlier in the year, reported here and here, has published its report on the adequacy of the Ports NPS. The report can be found here.

The Select Committee concludes that the NPS is not fit for purpose for two main reasons, both effectively on the ground of prematurity: the NPS is so interlinked with the National Networks (road and rail) NPS that it should not be designated before the latter is published (expected imminently). This conclusion is in the light of evidence from the Rail Freight Group, Network Rail, the Highways Agency, Greenpeace and the port operators.

Secondly, the new Marine Management Organisation (MMO), which is established on 1 April, will have such a vital role in deciding below-threshold port projects and commenting on above-threshold ones that it should be goven an opportunity to comment on the draft NPS.

Neither of these main criticisms is fatal, although if complied with would mean delay and the reopening of consultation on the NPS. Given the timing of the general election, such a delay is likely in any event and so the impact of the recommendations could be minimal.

Incidentally, the press release that accompanies the report is much more aggressive than the report itself, saying 'the National Policy Statement for Ports is not fit for purpose until major changes are made', whereas in fact the report concludes it could be made after it can be compared to the National Networks NPS and after the MMO has commented on it.

The Select Committee also calls for a debate on the floor of the House of Commons on the Ports NPS, and the government has previously undertaken to find time for this if it is asked to do so. They have called for the debate 'within the relevant period', i.e before 6 May, which may be difficult to fit in.

The report contains a number of other recommendations that are not deal-breakers, summarised as follows:

  • the NPS should state which organisations will be making decisions based on the NPS;
  • it is a restatement of existing policy but existing policy had not been fixed because the Ports Policy Review had not completed;
  • the NPS should contain a summary of policy and more evidence to back it up;
  • more up-to-date evidence should be commissioned given the change in economic circumstances;
  • more should be said about economic and social impacts;
  • the NPS should say whether impacts on existing operators should be taken into account;
  • the impacts and benefits should be given more explicit weightings;
  • the NPS still creates uncertainty for applicants, which should be reduced;
  • the relationship with the development plan regime should be clarified;
  • the NPS should express a preference for meeting regional social and economic needs;
  • the accompanying Appraisal of Sustainability (AoS) should clarify the consideration of alternatives;
  • the NPS should say how the AoS informed it;
  • climate change mitigation from design and inland transport should be given greater weight;
  • there should be more guidance on design;
  • comments on the NPS should be published;
  • in future, background information should be published to assist the public;
  • the government should clarify if new policy is introduced by NPSs and if so give time for proper scrutiny of it; and
  • the Parliamentary scrutiny period should be at least six months.

Finally, it calls for guidance on the circumstances in which the Secretary of Transport would consider reviewing the NPS.

The Energy and Climate Change Committee report comes out next Tuesday - let's see if it is as critical.