This is entry number 162, first published on 8 September 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog. If you would like to be notified when the blog is updated, with links sent by email, click here.

Today's entry reports on the announcements that two Secretaries of State are to appear before Select Committees next week.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is to appear before the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee of MPs next Wednesday, 15 September. The meeting will be open to the public and is to take place in the Grimond Room (appropriately named after a Liberal MP) at 9.45 a.m. If you cannot attend, you should be able to watch it from this link.

The full list of topics is to be

  • the impact of spending cuts,
  • the draft national policy statements,
  • gas, carbon-capture and new nuclear build, and
  • protecting energy consumers.

The current state of play with the energy National Policy Statements (NPSs) is that a suite of six NPSs was issued in draft by the previous government on 9 November 2009. These underwent a period of public consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny, which ended just before May's general election. Since the election, the coalition government has announced that it will continue with the NPSs, although it will reconsult on them this autumn. The main area of reconsultation is the 'Appraisal of Sustainability' that accompanied the overarching NPS, which was the subject of considerable criticism by environmental groups.

The interrogation of a Liberal Democrat Minister on new nuclear power is bound to be interesting. The coalition agreement allows Mr Huhne to speak against it and for Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain on any vote on it. In practice, Mr Huhne has said he has no objection as long as there is no public subsidy.

There are five Conservative, five Labour and one Lib Dem MPs on the select committee. Unlike Parliament as a whole, Sir Robert Smith, the Lib Dem MP, could therefore side with either the Conservatives or Labour to create a majority. The full membership is Tim Yeo (Con) in the Chair, Dan Byles, Philip Lee, Christopher Pincher and Laura Sandys (Con), Gemma Doyle, Tom Greatrex, Albert Owen, John Robertson and Alan Whitehead (Lab), and Sir Robert Smith (LD).

Eagle-eyed (or elephantine-memoried) blog readers may recall that Lord Marland (energy minister in the Lords) promised a statement on nuclear power by the end of June. There does not appear to have been such a statement, but there was an Energy Annual Statement on 27 July, which confirmed the existing policy, namely

The coalition agreement is clear that new nuclear can go ahead so long as there is no public subsidy. The Government are committed to removing any unnecessary obstacles to investment in new nuclear power. In the memorandum, I have outlined some clear actions to aid this. As a result, I believe that new nuclear will play a part in meeting our energy needs.

The memorandum referred to - rather more substantial than its name suggests - can be found here, and here are the four actions that are going to remove unnecessary obstacles.

  • ACTION 27: We will consult on a revised draft of the nuclear National Policy Statement in the Autumn and put it before Parliament for ratification next Spring.
  • ACTION 28: We will make a decision about Regulatory Justification of new nuclear reactor designs.
  • ACTION 29: The Government will ensure that the regulators have the ability to maintain the level of resource needed to deliver a meaningful end to Generic Design Assessment of new nuclear reactor designs in June 2011.
  • ACTION 30: We will finalise the arrangements to ensure that new nuclear operators set aside sufficient money from day one to pay for waste and decommissioning.

Look out for a report and analysis of the proceedings of the select committee next week.

Eric Pickles MP, Conservative Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, is also to appear before the corresponding select committee next week in the Grimond Room, this time at 4.40 p.m. on Monday 13 September. The same link above can be used to view the proceedings online. In this case he will be accompanied by junior ministers Grant Shapps MP and Greg Clark MP, and the topic for discussion is simply issues relating to the work of the department. Nevertheless the debate may touch on the Planning Act regime and the replacement of the Infrastructure Planning Commission in particular.

This does not appear to be a general charm offensive by Secretaries of State, in case you were wondering - they seem to be the only two appearances on the calendar.