This is entry number 191, first published on 26 November 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Today's entry marks the publication of the representations made about the first application to come before the Infrastructure Planning Commission.

The first application accepted by the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) since it opened for business on 1 March is for an energy from waste plant in Bedfordshire. It is promoted by Covanta Energy and is at Rookery South near Stewartby. It will be able to generate up to 65MW of electricity, which brings it over the threshold of 50MW that means that it is a nationally significant infrastructure project.

The objection period ran from 7 October to 19 November, and today the IPC has published the objections that it received. Actually it is unfair to say that they are objections, because it is just as possible to make representations in favour of the project and I haven't counted how many are on each side. Having said that all the ones I have looked at look like objections, except possibly the one from Natural England.

The objections

The IPC has published the objections here. Have patience - the page takes a little time to load as it loads the text of all 1004 objections so that they are searchable. The IPC has categorised them as follows (and I give the totals for each) local authorities (8), parish councils (29), other statutory consultees (12), non-statutory organisations (29) and 'public and business' (925).

The IPC says that it has removed representations that are vexatious, frivolous or offensive. Given that the last one is number 1026, I deduce that 22 fell into this category.

The extensive pre-application consultation exercise has certainly increased awareness of and engagement with, but not yet acceptance of, the proposal.

The eight local authority objections are from the two 'host' authorities Bedford and Central Bedfordshire (the application site straddles the boundary between them), four of the 14 neighbouring authorities (Buckinghamshire (2 representations), Milton Keynes, Aylesbury Vale and Luton) and Hertsmere, which is not even a neighbouring authority.

The parish councils figure is interesting because the IPC only consulted 15 (which seemed a lot at the time) but there are 29 representations. In fact 36 parish councils have objected because some of the representations are jointly made. 14 of the 15 IPC consultees objected, plus a further 22. It seems that the effects of a project such as this are felt more widely than expected. I had to laugh at the perils of relying on spell checking in one case, where one described itself as 'this pariah council...'.

Skimming through the other representations, there do not seem to be many that repeat the same text, which would be suggestive of a concerted campaign. This may be a feature of having to enter them online rather than by post, but most of them seem to have been individually crafted.

What happens next

The next stage is for the promoter, Covanta, to certify (i.e. send proof) to the IPC that it notified all the right people about the application. The Chair of the IPC, Sir Mike Pitt, will then appoint one of the 39 commissioners (other than himself or the pre-application commissioner that was previously appointed) to examine the application. The commissioner's first task will be to call a 'preliminary meeting', at which the timetabling arrangements for examining the application will be discussed. Deadlines such as when detailed representations must be made by (initial representations were limited to 500 words) will be set, and by when comments can be made on others' representations.

Although the regime discourages oral examination by having a presumption that everything will be done in writing, it is easy to overturn the presumption simply by calling for a hearing to be held. Unsurprisingly, several objectors have done so and so there will be a hearing lasting one or more days.

The date of the preliminary meeting is significant because it kicks off the statutory period within which the application must be examined and decided. The examination can take up to six months from the date of the preliminary meeting. If the Renewable Energy National Policy Statement (NPS) EN-3 has been finalised by then (it's not clear when exactly it must be finalised by with respect to a particular application, actually), then the IPC has nine months from the preliminary meeting to decide the application. If EN-3 has not been finalised by around then, then the IPC has nine months to make a recommendation to the government who then has a further three months to make a decision.

Note that both IPC deadlines run from the preliminary meeting, so that any time saved during the examination gets added on to the decision-making period. When I say the government makes the decision, again it is not clear if it will be Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who is in charge of the planning system, or Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who is in charge of power stations, or both.

If you do not attend the preliminary meeting you will still be able to find out what happened either by visiting the IPC website or by emailing the project's dedicated email address