This is entry number 111, first published on 11 March 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog. Today's entry reports on the House of Lords debate on the Ports National Policy Statement.

The Ports National Policy Statement (NPS) sets out government policy on port infrastructure for the Infrastructure Planning Commission to use to decide whether to approve applications for major port projects. The Transport Select Committee of the Commons has already had three sessions considering it, reported here and here.

House of Lords Grand Committee debate on Ports NPS, 4 March

The House of Lords held a debate on the Ports National Policy Statement on 4 March. Four hours had been set aside, but only one hour was taken up, and only four peers took part in the debate.

This mirrors the different level of interest in the six energy NPSs, which have yielded over 1000 public consultation responses, compared with the Ports NPS, which has received 159 responses. Arguably that's about the same, as 1000 responses to six NPSs is about 167 each, but it is clear that much more attention has been given to the energy side, and the Nuclear Power NPS in particular.

Lord Faulkner, government transport whip in the Lords, spoke for more than half the time that the debate took. He gave the line of port policy being market led while bound by environmental requirements. On need he said that the applicant's view should normally be accepted on assessing need (i.e. if an applicant applies for a project, then one can assume it's needed, which appears to be stronger than the expression of need in the NPS itself).

He said that the government expected the NPS to be given substantial weight in the consideration of applications for projects below the IPC size threshold, which from 1 April will be considered by the new Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

He mentioned the second transport NPS - on 'National Networks' (i.e. road, rail and rail freight interchanges) - of which there are rumours that it will be published today, at the same time as the announcement on a second high speed rail line. The NPS would have an extended consultation pariod to account for the general election, to give Parliament time to consider it.

For the Conservatives, Earl Attlee, grandson of the Labour Prime Minister, said that his grandfather would have been shocked that Labour policy was market-led (to which Lord Faulkner quipped that he would be more shocked that his grandson was a Conservative). His main point was that the NPS was full of factors to be taken into consideration, but hardly any actual policy.

Lord Greenway referred to a debate 20-30 years earlier on an extension to Felixstowe, where bird calls were made in the Commons chamber as part of a filibuster.

Lord Bradshaw deprecated the 'New Approach to Transport Appraisal' system or NATA, which he said prefers small time savings to large reliability improvements. He also said that noise was impossible to mitigate, which is an interesting claim.

There was also general disquiet that in the UK, ports are expected to pay for the additional road and rail infrastructure that they require, whereas in the rest of Europe the government usually pays for this. Lord Faulkner said there would be no change in policy, which effectively is port users rather than general taxpayers paying for the infrastructure.

So that ends Parliamentary scrutiny of the Ports NPS, although there was a further House of Lords debate on the energy NPSs on Tuesday and there will be another today. The Transport Select Committee has just announced that it will publish its report into the Ports NPS on 17 March. There may be debates on the floor of either House, but on the above performance, it is unlikely that there will need to be one on the Ports NPS in the Lords.

Link to debate - transcript - video recording