The Coalition Government Approach to Consenting Energy Infrastructure

Posted by Roderick Ellison - MSc BSc (Hons) AIEMA on 2/08/2010

Following the Coalition Agreement major changes to the planning system are on the agenda.  The philosophy behind the changes is ‘Open Source Planning’ and decentralisation.  What this term constitutes is set out in the Conservative Party’s Green Paper No.14.  In a nutshell it involves the following changes to the planning systems

  • Nationally - simplifying and reconfiguring
  • Regional – largely removed bar waste and mineral plans
  • Locally – Plans to be re-drafted on the basis of local consultation
  • Neighbourhoods – trying to engender greater public involvement

Information on the proposed changes is strategic in nature and chiefly serves to outline the direction of travel rather than the finer detail. The proposed timetable to realise this shift in emphasis is detailed in the Department for Communities and Local Government Draft Structure Reform Plan (July 2010).

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects

  • The IPC is to be abolished by the Decentralisation and Localism Bill (draft due November 2010
  • Transitional arrangement to be put in place – therefore consents not delayed/disrupted
  • Major Infrastructure Planning Unit (within Planning Inspectorate) to be established instead
  • It will working under the same statutory timeframes as the IPC
  • Final decisions on projects to be made by Secretary of State (for now & in future)

A Revised National Policy Framework – A New Integrated Framework

  • The Framework will be debated/voted on in both houses of Parliament
  • National Policy Statements (NPSs) for Energy Infrastructure to be re-consulted (autumn 2010)
  • To be ratified by Parliament  by spring 2011
  • Guidance notes to be issued on what constitutes ‘sustainable development’ replacing PPSs and PPGs.
  • Appeals to be ‘symmetrical’ both developers/residents can appeal against a decision
  • Regional Spatial Strategies revoked

Planning Obligations

  • Section 106 Agreements and Community Infrastructure Levy replaced by ‘Local Tariff’
  • Local tariff payment to be steered by schedule of rates/local community

At the national level, in the medium term, increased democratic legitimacy for NPS and a rationalised planning system are worthwhile objectives.  In the shorter term the IPC process remains, and in the medium term will be replaced by a body with many similarities.  The key change is the final sign off by the Secretary of State in a similar fashion to applications submitted under Section 36 of the Electricity Act; continuity or change?

Localism; is portrayed as having the capacity to rebuild communities via their iterative involvement in development. The Local Planning Authority (LPA) is portrayed as having a mentoring role facilitating this involvement via providing data, evidence and support; and ultimately arbitrating, and brokering the process.  The main risk associated with allowing neighbourhoods to decide what development they want is that this would empower the NIMBY lobby.  

The requirement for developers to pay the ‘Local Tariff’ based will be based on a schedule of rates,  plus an unspecified amount to be based on what local residents consider require appropriate compensation for the a development’s externalities is interesting. For novel projects developers will have to consider carefully at the outset how their projects fit into the schedule of rates (which may not characterise their schemes) and strategies for engaging the local community.

For applications lodged with LPAs for determination it seems prudent to:

  • Bring the needs and benefits of development to the fore
  • Provide evidence of appropriate public consultation with the application
  • Apply a methodological approach to calculating local tariff in consultation with the LPA