776: Government switches on water NSIPs and proposes more
Today’s entry reports on a consultation on the proposed Water Supply National Policy Statement.
On Monday, the government launched a consultation on the forthcoming Water Supply National Policy Statement (NPS), the document that sets out the policy on need for infrastructure projects and their impacts that should be assessed and examined. The consultation document can be found here and the consultation closes on 22 December.
The draft NPS is not due to be published next year and so this is an unusual consultation (compared to other NPSs) in advance of its publication. This consultation is not just about what the NPS should contain, though, but also revisions to which projects are considered nationally significant and should use the Planning Act regime.
The main drivers for more water infrastructure are population growth, climate change (specifically increased risk of drought) and threats (from taking too much water from habitats that need it). Basically, the people aren’t where the water is so we need more reservoirs near the people and more water pipelines from where the water is to where the people are.
Like main roads and railways, infrastructure planning for water is done through a series of five-year plans, in this case called Water Resource Management Plans (WRMPs). Unlike main roads and railways, the country is divided into areas covered by different companies and so to get the water to the people there will need to be projects across water company areas.
The consultation refers to a ‘twin-track approach’ – the second track as well as providing more infrastructure is more efficient use of water and less leakage. Interestingly, the proposed approach for projects is to declare a national need but leave it to the water companies to fulfil that need. Will that run into the same problems as housing, where local authorities’ plans don’t add up to the national need because they are no longer mandated to provide specified housing numbers?
After dealing with the appraisal of sustainability and habitats regulations, the consultation moves on to perhaps the most interesting topic: the revision of what are nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) for the supply of water.
The proposals are as follows:
- adding an alternative threshold for dams and reservoirs so that they would be either 10 million cubic metres (mcm) capacity or increase in capacity (the current definition) but could also be ones that would supply at least 10mcm per year;
- lowering the threshold for water transfer from a capacity of 100mcm per year to either 30mcm per year or 10mcm per year;
- adding a new category, desalination plants, that would either be able to produce 10 or 30mcm of water per year; and
- possibly adding another category, that of ‘effluent reuse’, but threshold definitions are sought because they are more complicated.
On all four fronts that means increasing the number of projects that will have to use the regime, potentially by quite a lot. 100mcm water transfer corresponds to about 1.6 million people’s worth of water, 10mcm is about 160,000 (slight inconsistency between paragraphs 56 and 81 on that point). The rationale is that that is larger than the average population of a local authority (133,000) and so is of more than local significance. On the other hand the 30mcm proposal is about 500,000 people’s worth, which corresponds to the waste water threshold. Take your pick.
Whether or not these changes are made, however, the existing thresholds will be brought into force on 1 January 2018 via this commencement order. This means that the Planning Act 2008 will finally be fully in force, nearly ten years after it was enacted.
Formatting note: the box on page 4 in the summary gives the options above as I or II; the box on page 17 gives the options as III or IV – someone forgot to tick ‘restart numbering’.