This is entry number 89, first published on 21 January 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Clickhere for a link to the whole blog.
Today's entry looks at the apparent failure of the government to follow the Planning Act consultation requirements for the Nuclear National Policy Statement.
On 9 November 2009, seven National Policy Statements (NPSs) were published in draft. The Planning Act sets out certain steps that must be undertaken so that they are properly scrutinised by Parliament, publicised and consulted upon. If an NPS names sites that are suitable or potentially suitable for development, then additional steps must be taken.
The draft Nuclear Power NPS (EN-6) is the only one of the seven that names particular sites - it names ten of the 11 sites that were nominated by nuclear power companies earlier in 2009 (the 11th being Dungeness in Kent).
The additional steps that must be taken are that the proposal to include each site in the NPS must be publicised in the local area, and the government must consult the local authorities whose areas contain the sites - and their neighbours - about how to publicise the proposal. It is the 'and their neighbours' bit that is the problem. Regular readers of this blog will know that including neighbouring authorities can make the total an order of magnitude larger. The ten sites in question are contained in 13 counties and districts, but when you include the neighbours, the number rises to 108 consultees.
Prompted by the wider local authority duties being spelt out in this blog, Planning Magazine sent a request under the Freedom of Information Act to the government to ask what local authorities it did consult for this purpose. The answer is that they consulted the 13 'host' authorities, four others nearby and (apart from a further five relating to Dungeness) that was it. The other 87 councils were not consulted.
In their defence the government have since referred to a circular letter they sent to all local authorities earlier in 2009 offering to keep them updated on nuclear siting if asked. This seems to me to be too general to count, and asking authorities to opt in is not the same as consulting them. What's more, the letter does not actually refer to the National Policy Statement.
It may seem fairly minor that a 'consultation about consultation' was not carried out properly. Maybe so, but it is worth pointing out that once the NPS has been finalised, when the application for the power station is made it will not be possible to object to the choice of site. This is therefore the only official local consultation on whether there should be a new nuclear power station in each area. As a supporter of the new Planning Act regime, it would be frustrating if it turns out that there has been an error in implementing it.
Although this may delay the designation of the Nuclear NPS, it will not necessarily delay applications for nuclear power stations, which must still be made to the new Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) from 1 March this year, whether or not the NPS is in force.
This was a blog exclusive until 22 January, when Planning published the result of its investigations! Here is a link to the online version of the article.