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Home / News and Insights / Blogs / Planning Act 2008 / 772: Third DCO decision in a row delayed

Today’s entry reports on the latest delay to a decision on a Development Consent Order decision.

Silvertown delay

The decision on Transport for London’s application for the Silvertown Tunnel Development Consent Order (DCO) for a new tunnel under the River Thames in east London, was due yesterday but has been delayed for 30 days.

The reason for this is given in a written ministerial statement by transport minister Paul Maynard MP:

‘to enable further consideration of the recent responses to the Secretary of State consultations on the scheme which relate to the updated UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations published by Government on 26 July 2017’

The immediate background to this (rather than the entire sorry saga of government air quality policy) is that a revised national Air Quality Plan for achieving nitrogen dioxide targets in the parts of the country where they were being exceeded as quickly as possible (including London), was published on 26 July 2017. Just before that, on 11 July, the recommendation from the panel of inspectors on the Silvertown project was sent to the Department for Transport (DfT) – as usual this won’t be published until the decision is issued – starting a three-month decision period.

On 9 August, the DfT asked TfL, ‘what impact the proposed Silvertown Tunnel development would have on meeting the proposals in the Zone Plan for the Greater London Urban area’, requesting a reply by 23 August. Not only did TfL reply, but so did the London Borough of Southwark and Friends of the Earth. So the DfT wrote to all interested parties on 1 September to comment on the three responses, with a deadline of 15 September. This time there were 10 respondents. All these responses can be found on the Planning Inspectorate website here.

Yesterday, the three month decision period has gone by without a decision, just less than a month after the end of the last consultation.

Pattern of delays

This is the third DCO to be delayed in a row, although the other two were the purview of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – the Hornsea Two Offshore wind farm off the Yorkshire coast and the Richborough electrical connection in Kent. Those were both undoubtedly delayed because of this year’s election – the Richborough decision was due on the very day of the election – although no reason was given in the equivalent written ministerial decision.

Thus those delays were of their times, but the latest one could have more general application – the moving target of air quality policy means that examinations do not examine in the same policy situation that obtains by the time decisions are due to be made, through no fault of the projects in question.

Perhaps of more concern is that having maintained a remarkable adherence to the three-month decision period of 41 out of the first 42 decisions, only four of the last eight have been stuck to. The fear that the sky will fall in if a decision is delayed seems to have been unfounded, and so the stigma of delay has lessened. But it has an overall negative effect of confidence in the regime, one of whose hallmarks has been predictable timing of decisions.

So, Government departments, to give an added incentive to keep to time, I declare that you will be pilloried in this blog if you keep delaying decisions. Right, that’ll learn ’em.

Every cloud (of nitrogen dioxide) has a silver lining – the delay means there are still four live applications rather than three. The next decision is still the Silvertown Tunnel one, the one after that not being due until 1 December.

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