This is entry number 11 of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Here I set out a possible problem with the new regime, being one of a few that I have encountered when combing through the Planning Act 2008 in contributing to our Butterworths guide on the subject.

Generating station threshold

The Act sets out 16 types of project that the new regime will cover, from airports to power stations to railways to reservoirs. In each case a size threshold is given, and if a project is to be larger than the threshold, then it will be subject to the new regime (and called a ‘nationally significant infrastructure project’, NSIP). The threshold is usually expressed as a new facility of size x, or an expansion of an existing facility by amount y. In fact in every case where x and y are given, x=y, but that’s beside the point.

For example, a new airport (Boris Island?) will be an NSIP if it will be able to cater for at least 10 million passengers a year, or 10,000 air cargo movements per year. The expansion of an existing airport (Heathrow?) will be an NSIP if the expansion will be by at least 10 million passengers a year or 10,000 air cargo movements per year. Thus an airport expanding from 8 to 15 million passengers will not be an NSIP, because the expansion is only 7m, even though had the airport been built in one go, it would have been an NSIP. The recent expansion of Stansted by relaxing a planning condition restricting its capacity from 25m to 35m passengers per year would have been an NSIP (just, by one passenger) – without anything being built.

The way the threshold has been expressed for generating stations (which includes everything from nuclear power stations to windfarms), however, is based on the existing threshold. It is that the new or expanded generating station must have a capacity of at least 50MW if it is onshore or 100MW if it is offshore. Thus going from 55 to 58MW will be an NSIP and subject to the new regime. Adding a single new turbine to a 60MW onshore windfarm could be an NSIP if the whole windfarm is regarded as the generating station – even adding a solar panel to the roof of a gas-fired power station will be. What is more, it will be a criminal offence to build one of these add-ons without using the new procedure.

Luckily the Act allows the thresholds to be changed, so this may be one that is adjusted in the light of experience.

Next: Heathrow T5 under the Planning Act