This is entry number 225, published on 18 March 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog.
Today’s entry reports on recent developments relating to National Policy Statements.
National Policy Statements (NPSs) are the main documents setting out government policy on need for infrastructure, how project promoters should deal with impacts and how the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) - or its successor - should assess them.
There were originally going to be twelve of these: six energy, three transport and three waste/water, but now there will be only ten or eleven.
Back in December, the coalition government cancelled its predecessor's proposed Airports NPS. This was because the government does not want any new runways in the south east of England, which would have been likely to be the only projects large enough to come under the Planning Act regime. It is just possible that other changes might increase capacity at an airport by at least 10 million passengers a year, but unlikely.
Another NPS might no longer appear - the Water Supply NPS. This will depend on the final versions Water Resource Management Plans (WRMPs) that each of the water utility companies must produce. Presumably once again if they contain no nationlly significant infrastructure projects then there will be no NPS. This time the thresholds are dams holding back or reservoirs containing at least 10 million cubic metres of water, or projects that allow at least 100 million cubic metres of water to be transferred between different areas each year.
The NPS is now looking less likely, as last week one candidate project was rejected: Thames Water's proposed 100m m3 reservoir near Abingdon in Oxfordshire was disapproved of by the Inspector considering Thames's WRMP.
Timing of energy NPSs
The six energy NPSs were originally published in November 2009 and republished in October 2010. Consultation closed on the second versions earlier this year, and the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee thought that finalising them now would be premature, given all the policy changes afoot. Nevertheless, the government's recent Carbon Plan says that it is planning to present final versions to Parliament in May this year, and then 'designate' them in June.
That was last week. Then along came Fukushima, and Chris Huhne's announcement that chief nuclear inspector Dr Mike Weightman was to review UK nuclear policy in the light of events in Japan. Here is his letter to Dr Weightman. Dr Weightman's interim report is to come out in May and his final report in September. Chris Huhne has said that the Nuclear Power NPS will take the interim report into account, which logically suggests that the final version of the NPS may not be published in May after all.
Having said that, according to Building Magazine, 'a government spokesman said it was too early to say if the process meant the ratification of the nuclear planning statement will be delayed'. Too early for them, maybe, but not for me! Then again, Dr Weightman has already said that UK nuclear power stations do not need to be designed to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis of the scale of last week's in Japan.
Parliamentary scrutiny of Waste Water NPS
The Waste Water NPS deals with sewerage infratructure, so not as high profile as nuclear power but necessary nonetheless. Here is a date for your diaries - the House of Lords is to consider the draft Waste Water NPS in a debate on 5 April. You may recall that the draft identified only two waste water projects to come within the Planning Act regime, both in London - and both Thames Water, so they will have experience of the regime after all.
Marine Policy Statement
Finally, today sees the publication of the 'Marine Policy Statement'. Decisions on projects below the thresholds in the Planning Act must be in accordance with the MPS; above-threshold projects merely have to have regard to it. Only harbours and offshore windfarms are likely to be involved, but the coastal nuclear power stations might.
The MPS has been drafted somewhat like an NPS, but without a need section. In other words it sets out impacts that promoters should address in their applications and that the decision-maker should assess (usually the Marine Management Organisation, although this document covers the whole of the UK).