This is entry number 294, published on 10 November 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 the latest applications to the Infrastructure Planning Commission.

Since March 2010, it has been compulsory for any application to build and operate a nationally significant energy and transport project to be made to the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC).  The same become true for waste water projects in April 2011 and hazardous waste projects in October 2011.

Despite the compulsion, and the urgent need for such infrastructure expressed in the relevant National Policy Statements, in the first 590 days since 1 March 2010 only five applications were made to the IPC for any sort of infrastructure.  In the past four weeks, though, a further three have been made - a 60% increase.  Could this finally be a sign that the regime is settling down and proving less daunting to project promoters at last?

The three new applications are for an offshore windfarm extension, a nuclear power station and a new onshore windfarm - the first to be made of its kind, in each case.

On 14 October, Vattenfall applied for an extension to the Kentish Flats windfarm previously reported here - a decision whether to accept it will be taken this week; on 31 October, EDF Energy (or rather NNB Generation Ltd) applied for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station reported here, and most recently RWE Npower Renewables Ltd has applied for an onshore windfarm at Brechfa Forest in mid Wales.  Here are some details about the most recent application.

The proposal is for 28 wind turbines, which will have a maximum capacity of 56-84MW, depending on the choice of turbine.  It is thus above the 50MW threshold in either case and therefore a nationally significant infrastructure project.

Unusually - uniquely to date - the promoter chose not to seek a 'scoping opinion' from the IPC of what its Environmental Statement should cover, a course of action that it is perfectly entitled to take, of course.

Given that of the other seven applications, (only) the two relating to Wales have come a cropper in one way or another, one wonders whether this project will put the 'curse of Wales' to rest.  It is not necessarily a coincidence that projects in Wales have had difficulties to date - the regime is different there in several respects and this may mean that it is less workable there.  For more about the differences in Wales, see this blog entry.

The inability to include 'associated development' in an application in Wales contributed to the rejection of one project, and having to rely on hostile local authorities for such development may have been a contributing factor to the withdrawal of the other.

The pick-up in applications is probably overdue and inevitable, but it may have been helped by two factors: in the last month the first application has been granted consent, giving confidence to future promoters, and the Localism Bill has now passed its Parliamentary stages and so what it will do to the Planning Act regime is now much more certain.  The government will be considering what transitional provisions to introduce to make the switch from the IPC to what I think will now be the NID (national infrastructure directorate) in April 2012 as seamless as possible.

The three most recent applications are all for low-carbon energy production, which is especially welcome given yesterday's gloomy World Energy Outlook published by the International Energy Agency, saying that the world risked being locked into CO2-emitting power stations for years to come.  This actually echoed the ECC Select Committee's view on the energy National Policy Statements issued in January - see the last paragraph of this report.