757: DCO drought ends after 10.5 months
Today’s entry analyses the lack of development consent order applications.
Today, 2 June 2017, marks the end of the examination into the M20 Junction 10A Development Consent Order (DCO) application. That is significant because until Tuesday, it was the most recent application to have been made. However that day, a new application did come in, for the Eggborough CCGT power station near Selby, marking the first application since 19 July 2016.
Including that one, there are now just six applications that have been made but not decided – one in the acceptance stage, two in the recommendation stage and three in the decision stage. The highest number of live applications at one time so far is 27, in August 2014.
The next decision, on the Richborough Connection project, is due next Thursday 8 June, but as that happens to be the date of the general election, it is likely to be delayed, and the one after that is due on 28 June, for the East Anglia THREE offshore wind farm. We’ll see which comes first, the events of 8 June perhaps deciding how long they both take.
Wednesday’s application does mean that the Government will have at least one DCO to decide in the whole of 2018. We are also hoping to submit one on behalf of our clients by the end of this month to double their workload (albeit a different department).
Why is there such a drought? This could just be a hiccup due to the small number of large projects that the Planning Act 2008 regime involves. Statistically there are bound to be clusters and gaps.
There could be other reasons for a slow-down, though. The last energy application was made over a year ago in March 2016, despite the declared ‘urgent need’ for energy infrastructure in the now rather outdated Overarching Energy National Policy Statement. The urgency of the need does not appear to translate to a sufficient incentive to make applications.
Other projects, notably those that are publicly funded, are more at the mercy of political events such as general elections and referendums, and we’ve managed to have one of those each year for four years in a row (counting indyref 1). These events can switch the tap off for projects as purdah means a slowdown and changes in ministerial personnel inevitably mean re-looking at project justifications. While these lead to delays, they do usually come forwards eventually.
Since application fees cover the point of application until the end of examination, almost all of the work currently being carried out by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) is therefore not being paid for by fees, but is 99% pre-application and post-examination work which they do for free. Spare a thought for them – a lack of applications and hardly any fees.
That is not to say that they aren’t busy – there are a large number of projects at the pre-application stage on which PINS staff are providing advice and attending meetings. There are 49 such projects listed on the PINS website, although some of those might be regarded as dead, or at least inactive. The last activity for the Oldbury nuclear power station was the issuing of a scoping opinion in December 2011, for example. About 15 of the projects have had no activity this year, according to entries on their web pages.
On the other hand, projects such as the Heathrow North West runway and the Lower Thames Crossing are not listed on the website at all but are huge DCOs on their way and there is plenty of work being carried out on them.
All in all, there seems to be no diminution in the amount of work for us lot, even if there has been a hiatus in the number of applications.