This is entry number 291, published on 2 November 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 examines progress on applications as the latest, for the Hinkley Point nuclear power station, is made.

Hinkley Point application

On Monday, the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) received the long-awaited (and incorrectly pre-empted by Chris Huhne a couple of weeks ago) application from EDF Energy for a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset.  This is the first application for a nuclear power station, and the first that will produce more than 100MW of additional electricity - over 3000MW, in fact. Although it gets more Google hits with a 'c' than without, Hinkley doesn't have one - but it will be Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

The IPC must decide whether to accept the application within 28 days of receiving it, i.e. by 29 November, and it will publish the application documents shortly thereafter.  Acceptance is no mere formality - it has refused to accept one of the seven applications so far made to it.  It relates to the quality of the application documents and the pre-application stages rather than the merits of the application.

Although the BBC says 'Plans for the station could be published within 28 days, when the public can comment on them' that is not quite right.  The ability to comment on the application is only triggered once EDF Energy publicises the fact that the application has been accepted (if it is).  In the case of the Rookery South application, the application was accepted on 26 August 2010, but it wasn't until 7 October 2010 that the promoter publicised the fact.  That is the last point at which the timetable is under the control of the promoter - after that they must step onto the IPC conveyor belt (rollercoaster?).

Project analysis

1 November marks 20 months since the Planning Act 2008 regime became compulsory for nationally significant energy and transport projects, and it has since become compulsory for waste water and hazardous waste projects.  In July 2010, the IPC compiled a chart of the applications it expected to deal with over the following year, taken from promoters' estimated application dates. I reproduce that chart here together with my own of what has actually happened, extended to the end of October 2011. See if you can detect any differences.

Why the low take-up?  I think the reasons are:

  • all projects slip, but didn't have to declare their dates publicly before
  • the recession
  • the delay in finalising National Policy Statements
  • the uncertainty caused by changes to the regime in the Localism Bill
  • moving from a back-loaded to a front-loaded system
  • nervousness about applications being rejected for examination
  • nervousness about changes to applications not being allowed

Many of these points are being addressed by the government.  On the second-last point, dispel such nervousness by taking the IPC's advice and instructing lawyers with the right expertise!

How are the applications that have actually been made faring?  Time for another chart.  The numbers at the end are the numbers of representations that were made on each application, if it got/has got that far.

Click here to view chart

It's not been plain sailing, but at least you can say that if your application is accepted and you stay the course of the examination, experience to date is that there should be a green light of some kind at the end.