This is entry number 108, first published on 5 March 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog. For more information on our work on major projects, click here.
Today's entry reports on further debates in Parliament on the energy National Policy Statement.
Three previous blog entries (here, here and here) have reported on the first nine sessions of the Energy and Climate Change Committee's examination of the six energy National Policy Statements (NPSs). Today I summarise the salient points I took from the last 10 February session, and also the first debate in the House of Lords on 23 February. Links to the transcripts and video recordings are at the end.
Energy and Climate Change Committee, 10 February
The final Energy and Climate Change Select committee session saw energy Minister Lord Hunt of Kings Heath - or Phil, as Paddy Tipping MP called him - flanked by two of his officials Adam Dawson and Anne Stuart, give evidence.
Phil said that at that point, with two weeks to go, there had been over 1000 responses to the consulatation on the six energy NPSs. They had added a Hinkley consultation event and attended an additional one at Hartlepool (previously reported) in response to allegations that the notice for the original events had been too short. DECC officials were also due to attend an event at Dungeness, the site that had been left off the list.
He said that the non-nuclear NPSs were not made 'locationally specific' because that would have taken longer and would have blighted land.
One of the most interesting areas of inquiry was that on cumulative effects and comparatives. Should the IPC tot up the carbon impacts of projects and refuse any either because there were lower carbon alternatives, or too many higher carbon projets had already been consented? The answer was no. It should consider each application on its own merits. It is for the government to change policy if too many of the wrong types of application were being applied for. However, the IPC can take cumulative impacts into account when deciding applications.
He said that the Committee on Climate Change shouldn't comment on individual applications, although we have heard previously that the IPC was expecting that it would.
He said that the Appraisal of Sustainability did not consider wide alternatives because the NPSs did not contain new policy, and so the only change they made was on policy presentation. It was unreasonable to say that the NPSs had a different purpose (foreshadowing a potential argument in the courts).
Good question: wasn't the identification of the nuclear sites a windfall for energy companies who already owned them? The sites' value would have increased significantly. Lord Hunt said that the nomination process had been open to any site.
Anne Stuart at DECC finally gave the answer that no-one else had given to the frequent question: what if the local authority refused e.g. an access road to a nuclear power station that the IPC had consented? Could it scupper the project that way if it didn't like it? Anne said that the road could be included in the application for the IPC to decide (as 'associated development') which would reduce that problem from happening. Note: only in England.
Another good question: did the energy from waste threshold create a perverse incentive to create larger projects that would take waste from further afield, because the new regime was more attractive than the old? Lord Hunt would look at that.
Lord Hunt said that they would look at the bald wording about the IPC not needing to consider long term nuclear waste storage.
So that brought an end to the ECC Committee's oral hearings. In total 820 questions were asked over ten morning and afternoon sessions. The committee's report will be published by the end of this month.
House of Lords Grand Committee debate on EN-1, 23 February 2010
Meanwhile, Phil had another appointment last week, in the Moses Room of the House of Lords, where their Lordships were holding the first of four debates on NPSs. The subject of the first debate was the Overarching Energy NPS EN-1, but the discussion was rather more far-ranging. Here are some highlights.
I must congratulate the CPRE for their briefing of peers - no fewer than three out of about ten contributing to the debate referred to their briefings.
The Tories claimed responsibility for there being three day's debate rather than one on energy NPSs. Time would be found for a debate on the floor of the House of Lords if these debates called for one.
The Tories had five criticisms: the NPSs would quickly get out of date because energy policy was far from settled; the new regime was very far from being the one stop shop it was claimed to be; they would table an amendment to EN-1 on need (raising interesting prcedural questions), and one on taking into account carbon impacts; and finally Dungeness should have been included. The one way to make people in favour of a nuclear power station seems to be to leave it out of the NPS!
Lord Chorley thought that the Commons Select Committee hearings should be joint committees of peers as well. That would be looked at.
The Bishop of Liverpool thought that the NPS was not low carbon enough, and was not in line with the government's Low Carbon Transition Plan. Now that is a valid criticism, as it is to do with presentation of policy, rather than the policy itself.
Lord Judd cautioned that in our haste to consent new energy projects, we should not wreck the environment.
Lord Reay exhibited his climate change denial credentials.
Apparently an Australian study has shown that the cost of carbon capture and storage puts 78% on electricity prices.
Baroness Young thought that the NPS should reflect government policy on biodiversity better (again a presentation of policy point).
In his reply at the end of the debate, Lord Hunt suggested that the 6 May deadline for Parliamentary scrutiny may get 'prolonged' by a post-election Secretary of State. Not sure about that.
I hadn't seen it subdivided so precisely before, but our EU target of 20% energy from renewables is to come from 30% electricity, 12% heating and 10% transport.
Finally, Lord Hunt said that a project could not be consented if to do so would be illegal, and he gave infringement of the Habitats Directive as an example, of which environmental groups may well take note.
There are two more Lords debates on the energy NPSs to come - EN-2 to EN-5 get one, and the nuclear NPS EN-6 gets its own. There is also a debate on the draft Ports NPS. All will be reported in due course.