The Planning (Wales) Act 2015 (“the Act”) received Royal Assent today. The Act introduces a variety of policy and procedural changes to the Welsh planning system.
For energy generation projects in Wales the key change is the introduction of a new category of planning permission for Developments of National Significance (DNS). Consultation on regulations to define a DNS proposes various thresholds for different types of development and is expected to apply to onshore energy generating stations producing between 25MW and 50MW. Welsh Ministers may also specifically designate a DNS. Subject to any changes made by the regulations, the process is expected to run as follows:
- Application made to the Welsh Ministers and validated by them.
- Planning Inspectorate Wales will review the application before making a recommendation to Welsh Ministers.
- Welsh Ministers will determine the application taking into account the local concerns put forward by Local Planning Authorities (LPA) in the form of Local Impact Reports, but also the national interest of seeing the project proceed to completion.
- Welsh Ministers can also make decisions on ancillary/secondary connected applications such as common land applications, applications to stop-up highways and compulsory purchase rights.
- If Welsh Ministers grant permission, discharge of conditions will remain within the remit of the LPA.
- The decision of the Welsh Ministers will be made within 36 weeks of the application being accepted and there is no right of appeal.
In terms of policy, a new legal framework for the Welsh Ministers to prepare a national land use plan, to be known as the National Development Framework for Wales will be introduced. The Framework will set out national land use priorities and infrastructure requirements for Wales. The Act also makes provision for the production of Strategic Development Plans to tackle larger-than-local cross-boundary issues, such areas for economic growth and regeneration.
Procedural changes include the following:
An ability to apply to the Welsh Ministers for planning permission where the LPA is deemed to be poorly performing. Any decision will be final and cannot be appealed;
Requiring LPAs to provide pre-application services; and
Removal of the ability to appeal ground (a) (that planning permission ought to be granted) where a refusal of planning permission has already been upheld at appeal.
This Act will come into force at a time when further changes are being proposed to the consenting regime in England and Wales. The Queen’s speech envisages devolution of responsibility for onshore energy projects of up to 350MW to Wales. Once these powers are transferred the Welsh Government will have to decide whether or not to bring these larger (50mw – 350mw) energy schemes within the DNS definition. We know the Government’s intention is to ensure that the primary decision maker for onshore wind is the local planning authority so we will need to see whether the Welsh Government decides to categorize such development as DNS, whether it moves the lower DNS threshold back up to 50mw or whether a different approach is taken.