This is entry number 159, first published on 1 September 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 Infrastructure Planning Commission's first refusal of an application.

The Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) has been the body to which applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects have had to be made since 1 March, although it took until 3 August for the first application to be received, with the second following two days later.

When an application is received, the IPC has 28 days to decide whether to accept it. Note that this is just accepting the application for consideration, like a planning application being logged, rather than deciding whether or not to grant permission.

Last week it accepted the application made on 5 August, for an energy from waste plant near Bedford (see previous blog entry). Today it has announced that yesterday it refused the first application made to it, for a power line near Neath. There is a letter giving reasons (as must be provided to the applicant) on the website, in the name of Jan Bessell, one of the full-time commissioners, who was formerly a planner at a law firm.

There are various grounds on which the IPC can reject an application, or rather a number of criteria that must be satisfied before the IPC can accept it. These are:

  • that it is indeed an application for a nationally significant infrastructure project (i.e. the size of the project is above the threshold set out in the Planning Act);
  • that it complies with the regulations on application forms and what they must be accompanied by;
  • that it complies with any standards that the IPC has set (and it has);
  • that reasons are given for any departure from IPC guidance; and
  • that the pre-application consultation stage was carried out properly.

To determine the last of these categories, the IPC will have available to it the consultation report of the applicant, which is one of the application documents. It is also possible that one of the host or neighbouring local authorities has submitted a report setting out whether the authority thinks the applicant complied with the pre-application consultation requirements. This is known as an 'adequacy of consultation report' and as I have said before it is not clear how the local authority will know when to send this by, although in practice the IPC has publicised the dates it has received applications despite it not being required to do so, which solves this problem. The IPC will also check compliance with the government's and its own guidance on pre-application consultation.

The IPC has decided to reject the application on three grounds: that it does not comply with the requirement for form and contents of an application; that it does not give reasons for not following guidance on the form of applications; and that the pre-application procedure has not been complied with.

If it is to proceed with the project, the applicant, Western Power Distribution, now has the two main options of addressing the points raised and submitting a modified application (no time limit), or launching judicial review proceedings (to challenge the decision on legal grounds) (six week time limit, i.e. until 12 October).

Thus based on a rather small sample size of two, the IPC has accepted 50% of applications and rejected 50% to date. Again I stress that this is only accepting them for examination, not deciding them. This does at least mean that it is not the rubber-stamping body that some feared it would be, and is likely to encourager les autres to tighten up their application standards.