Today's entry reports on a decision to accept changes to the Hinkley Point C application.

In contrast to the refusal to allow changes to Covanta Energy's proposed Brig y Cwm energy from waste project application last August, the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has allowed changes to be made to EDF's proposed Hinkley Point C (HPC) nuclear power station application.

In a letter issued last week, Andrew Phillipson, the chair of the now five-person panel of what we must now call 'Examining Inspectors', has allowed the application to continue with changes sought at the preliminary meeting on 21 March and elaborated upon on 30 March.

What are the changes, and why have they been allowed?  The changes are described in Table 3 in this document, starting on page 7. There are six changes.  The first is a new culvert to allow otters to cross the Cannington Bypass at Mill Stream (all together now: awww!).  The other five changes are all to the designs of road accesses and junctions (one fewer than originally expected). Although three of these require changes to the flood risk assessment, they are all stated not to affect the conclusions of the environmental impact assessment.

This is in contrast to the Brig y Cwm changes, which involved additional engineering operations to raise ground levels, and had beneficial impacts but also adversely affected landscape and visual, and cultural heritage impacts.  In that case the IPC decided that the changes were substantial alterations to the application and exceeded the threshold of what was allowable.  Covanta decided to continue with their original application for a while, and then withdraw it shortly after they got consent for their other proposal in Bedfordshire.

We therefore have a set of changes that is acceptable and one that is not.  The limit of acceptability is somewhere in between.  It may be telling that the Brig y Cwm changes involved 44 new or amended documents, and the Hinkley Point C (HPC) changes only involved nine. Having said that, it is probably not simply a question of degree. Some changes may be substantial but be entirely beneficial - should they be prohibited?  I would hope not.

Also of significance is that EDF took the step of publicising the changes to the application by publishing notices in the press and depositing the changes in libraries.  This was a factor in the decision to accept the changes, presumably because it allowed the six-month examination timetable to be stuck to.  I think the promoters did so off their own bat rather than being advised by the Planning Inspectorate to do so.  Other factors, as can be seen in this letter from Andrew Phillipson, were that the application boundary remained the same (so did Brig y Cwm's), and the additional documents were all to be supplied within 9 days of the preliminary meeting (so were Brig y Cwm's - 7 days later).

There was also a difference in approach by the panels examining the two different applications.  The Brig y Cwm panel invited interested parties to comment on whether they thought the changes were material.  Funnily enough without reading them in detail I suspect that all 83 representations received thought that they were indeed material.  The HPC panel on the other hand presumed that the changes were not material unless it decided otherwise upon seeing the additional information, and did not solicit comments on whether they were material.  Panels are of course entitled to take differing approaches on such matters depending on the circumstances if they wish.

So what can we conclude about when changes will be allowed and when they won't?  There are too few examples to say definitively, but the following factors seem to help:

  • providing the changes promptly (Brig y Cwm tick, HPC tick);
  • advertising them (Brig y Cwm cross, HPC tick);
  • there being no material additional adverse environmental impacts, and demonstrating this (Brig y Cwm cross, HPC tick); and
  • there being no increase in the site limits (i.e. no new landowners affected) (Brig y Cwm tick, HPC tick).

Incidentally, it would help if the Planning Inspectorate website displayed documents relating to a project chronologically.  There are now 199 non-application 'project documents' for HPC and while they have been categorised by type, they are not in any particular order and it is getting increasingly difficult to find newly posted documents.  Furthermore, consistency: the changes to Brig y Cwm are filed under 'project documents', while the changes to HPC are under 'application documents' and you have to know to look for 'post submission changes' amongst the 310 documents there.