This is entry number 88, first published on 20 January 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 hearings that are being held in Parliament on the seven National Policy Statements.

Six National Policy Statements (NPSs) on energy and one on parts were issued for consultation on 9 November, and once finalised ('designated') will be used by the new Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) to decide applications for nationally significant energy and transport projects.

A previous blog entry set out the timetable for the Parliamentary hearings into the draft NPSs by two select committees. The hearings kicked off on 6 January at the Energy and Climate Change (ECC) Select Committee of the House of Commons. Links to the transcripts of the hearings and the televised versions are given below. The members of the committee are Elliot Morley, Dave Anderson, Colin Challen, Judy Mallaber, John Robertson, Paddy Tipping, Des Turner and Alan Whitehead (Lab), Nadine Dorries, Charles Hendry, Julie Kirkbride and Anne Main (Con), Robert Smith (Lib Dem) and Mike Weir (SNP).

The bad weather meant that Planning Aid and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) didn't make it so Hugh Ellis of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) (and also adviser to Friends of the Earth) had the stand to himself for the first hour. His two main points were that the consultation was inadequate and that the declaration that all forms of energy generation were equally necessary was weak. He singled out footnote number 11 on page 22 of the Overarching Energy NPS (EN-1) as declaring that it should be left to the private sector to determine the energy mix for the UK.

After he had finished, Graham Bocking of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and Richard Coakley of the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) took the stand. They too supported the idea of the energy mix being in a hierarchy, with some types (i.e. renewables) more preferred than others (i.e. fossil fuels). Richard Coakley said that not enough was in the NPSs about decarbonising the two main non-electrical sources of energy: transport and heating. He also made the point that the origin of the biofuel to be used should be a factor in deciding a biofuel plant application, given that some of it could be potentially harmfully grown and transported.

Mike Weir MP expressed concern that the IPC might approve, say, a nuclear power station, but then a planning application for a road leading to it could get blocked by the local authority, meaning that the power station could not go ahead. As he represents a Scottish constituency, where the Planning Act barely applies, he can be forgiven for not realising that one of the benefits of the Act is that, in England at least, 'associated development' such as roads can be included in the main application for the IPC to determine.

On Wednesday 13 January, the ECC Committee had its second session and the Transport Committee had its first at the same time. The transcript for the former is not yet available on the Parliament website, but here is a report of the latter. The members of the Transport Committee are Louise Ellman, David Clelland, Eric Martlew, Angela C. Smith, Peter Soulsby and Graham Stringer (Lab), Philip Hollobone, Mark Pritchard and David Wilshire (Con), John Leech (Lib Dem) and Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP).

Eight witnesses appeared before the committee in three batches. First, Bill Newman appeared for the TCPA, James Trimmer for the RICS and Morag Ellis QC for the Planning and Environmental Bar Association (PEBA). Then Cllr Richard Kemp appeared for the Local Government Association (LGA) and Alan Welby for Regional Development Agencies. Finally, Ginny Clarke appeared for the Highways Agency, Janet Goodland for Network Rail and Mark Rowbotham for the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT).

The Transport submissions were less critical of the NPS - but three points came through. The Ports NPS would benefit from being considered in conjunction with the National Networks NPS, which will deal with road and rail and has been delayed until this spring. If that is horizontal integration, the second issue was vertical integration - the NPS should link better (or at all, some would say) with regional and local planning policy. Finally, the consideration by the IPC of the carbon effects of projects was thought to be insufficiently covered. A bit like the hierarchy of energy generation types that some would like to see, transport links to ports should also be in a hierarchy of preference rather than just considered equally.

Graham Stringer MP asked if Dibden Bay, the proposed container port near Southampton that was refused permission in 2004, would have been given permission under the new regime. To me that is not the test of the new regime, it is whether it would have been clear in advance that it would not have been given permission in the form submitted - the NPS should give more certainty rather than more chance of success. In my view the NPS does not yet do that - the main issue that Dibden lost on was that the need for the port was not considered sufficient to override the harm to protected natural habitats that it would have caused. The way all the NPSs express need is the key to their success and the general consensus is that it is not quite clear, or backed up wtih evidence, enough.

Angela Smith MP asked if the NPS would help with the Severn Barrage. I can answer for her - that is not within the scope of the Ports NPS but the Renewable Energy NPS. It is presently not covered even in that, but will be added to it if the project appears to be getting off the ground.

The committee seemed to want the witnesses to say that the Ports NPS should be more location specific, and in particular should try to shift port capacity northwards, but most of them would not be drawn on that point.

That's long enough an entry for just two sessions of NPS consideration, but I hope you get a flavour of it.

Links to transcripts and televised coverage:

ECC Committee first sitting 6 January - transcript - broadcast

ECC Committee second sitting 13 January a.m. - transcript not yet available - broadcast

ECC Committee third sitting 13 January p.m. - transcript not yet available - broadcast

ECC Committee fourth sitting 20 January a.m. - transcript not yet available - broadcast

ECC Committee fifth sitting 20 January p.m. - transcript not yet available - broadcast

Transport Committee first sitting 13 January -transcript - broadcast

Transport Committee second sitting 20 January - transcript not yet available -broadcast