This is entry number 288, published on 20 October 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 European Union moves to fund projects that will have to follow a new authorisation process.

The European Union is concerned that the single market is not operating effectively because of a lack of integrated energy, transport and digital infrastructure, and is also not moving to a secure, low-carbon energy future quickly enough.  Yesterday it launched two new proposed regulations to address this, with an attendant host of new terms and TLAs (three-letter abbreviations) to get used to.

The first initiative launches the 'Connecting Europe Facility' (CEF) which is about spending €50bn on all three sectors of infrastructure.  The second initiative focuses on energy infrastructure.  For the highest priority projects (projects of common interest, or PCIs), it will mean a new authorisation regime.

Connecting Europe Facility

The first proposed Regulation can be found here.  €32bn is to go on transport (although €10bn of this is within the existing Cohesion Fund), with €9bn on each of energy and digital networks.  To be eligible for the money, you have to be a 'project of common interest', which are in various priority corridors and areas set out in annexes.  More detail is given in other proposed Regulations.  The energy one was published yesterday - see below.  I'm not a great expert at finding my way around the EU website, but I think that the transport project proposal is in draft here and the digital project proposal is here.

Bids will be invited during various periods, starting in 2014, although there will be 5-10 pilot projects identified for 2012-13 that will use the existing regime but mirror the new one.  Proposals for funding can be submitted by governments, international organisations or private companies, but not individuals.  Funding is generally up to 50% of the cost of the project, but can be up to 100% in some cases.

The annexes identify eight energy and 10 transport corridors that projects of common interest will generally be in, of which the following parts are in the UK:

  • Energy Corridor 1: Northern Seas offshore grid (“NSOG”)- Developing an integrated offshore electricity grid in the North Sea, the Irish Sea, the English Channel, the Baltic Sea and neighbouring waters to transport electricity from renewable  offshore energy sources to centres of consumption and storage and to increase cross-border electricity exchange
  • Energy Corridor 2: North-South electricity interconnections in South-Western Europe (“NSI West Electricity”) - Developing interconnections between Member States of the region and with Mediterranean third countries, notably to integrate electricity from renewable energy sources
  • Energy Corridor 3: North-South gas interconnections in Western Europe ("NSI West Gas"): Increasing interconnection capacities for North-South gas flows in Western Europe to further diversify routes of supply and increase short-term gas deliverability
  • General energy projects: smart grids deployment; electricity highways and cross-border carbon dioxide network.
  • Transport Corridor 2: Felixstowe – Midlands; Rail, port, multimodal platforms; interconnections port and multimodal platforms
  • Transport Corridor 8: Dublin - Belfast Rail Upgrading; Dublin Interconectors (DART); Glasgow - Edinburgh Rail upgrading; High Speed 2 Rail studies; Swansea - Cardiff - Bristol - London Rail upgrading; Dublin, Cork, Southampton, Le Havre Ports hinterland connections.

Projects of Common Interest - energy

The second proposed Regulation can be found here. What is of particular interest to those involved in infrastructure planning and authorisation is contained in articles 10 and 11 and Annex VI.  Projects of common interest relating to energy (i.e. in the areas set out above) will have to be subject to a special 'permit granting process', i.e. authorisation procedure.

Thus if the UK is to participate in this regime to get hold of some of the €9bn earmarked for energy projects, it is going to have to adapt existing procedures or create new ones for what you might call 'internationally significant infrastructure projects' (ISIPs), which will sit above, or instead of, the Planning Act regime we know and love for nationally significant infrastructure projects.

Article 11 says that the process shall consist of a pre-application stage lasting no more than two years, and an application stage that shall last no more than a year after the application has been accepted.  The Planning Act authorisation procedure currently lasts more than a year - about 15 months, if you add all the bits together, and the pre-application stage is open-ended.

The pre-application consultation requirements are quite prescriptive - e.g. it must involve the publication of an information leaflet no more than 15 pages long, at least three alternatives must have been considered, and stakeholders must be invited to meetings to discuss their concerns.  Thus the Planning Act regime as it stands does not fully comply with these proposals.

All this is required to be in place by 1 September 2013, i.e. nine months after the regulation is due to come into force.  So, there's a little job for the government if it is to take advantage of the money the EU is making available.