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25 January 2018

786: New National Policy Statement launched

Today’s entry reports on the launch of the draft geological disposal National Policy Statement.

You wait ages for a National Policy Statement (NPS) and then four come along at once. Recent developments are: an airports one on which consultation has just closed on a revised draft, a water one on which consultation has closed on the approach to be used for it and a new nuclear one on which consultation is running on the approach to that.

Today, the euphemistically titled draft NPS for geological disposal infrastructure has been published. Euphemistically because it is actually the disposal of ‘higher activity radioactive waste’.

What is an NPS? It fulfils three functions:

  • it contains a declaration of need for the types of infrastructure it covers;
  • it sets out what impacts project developers should assess in their applications; and
  • it sets out what approach decision-makers should take on those impacts when deciding applications.

The draft NPS can be found here. It covers both the eventual facility and projects for boreholes to ascertain the suitability of sites. I do think the definition of what is covered by the Planning Act for the eventual facility is curious as it requires the facility to be in a natural environment that inhibits the transit of radionuclides to the surface. No other type of nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) has such a qualitative test for its threshold. You shouldn’t need expert opinion just to decide whether you are an NSIP.

So how strong is the need for the facility? Section 3.2 explains, although it doesn’t describe the degree of need (the energy NPSs say infrastructure is ‘urgently needed’, this just says it is needed). However the need is under four headings: a technical need, an ethical need, a legal need (to comply with the Spent Fuel and Radioactive Waste Directive) and a need to meet energy and climate change objectives. The need for boreholes is just technical – an essential precursor to the main facility. That could be tightened up a bit in terms of how many are needed – presumably hundreds of them wouldn’t be necessary.

Seven ‘assessment principles’ are identified:

  • good design;
  • climate change adaptation;
  • pollution control;
  • nuisance;
  • safety;
  • health; and
  • security.

Then, 13 impacts are identified to be assessed by the applicant and given attention by the decision-maker. They read pretty much like an environmental statement chapter list (2017 version, although major accidents and disasters is conspicuously absent):

  • air quality;
  • noise;
  • biodiversity and nature conservation;
  • climatic factors;
  • historic environment;
  • socio-economic, population and demographics;
  • flood risk and coastal change;
  • human health;
  • landscape and visual impacts;
  • land use;
  • traffic and transport;
  • waste management; and
  • water quality.

The ‘condoc’ is pretty simple, asking seven questions:

  • is chapter 3 (need) OK?
  • is chapter 4 (assessment principles) OK?
  • is chapter 5 (impacts) OK?
  • is chapter 5 of the appraisal of sustainability OK?
  • is chapter 6 of the AoS OK?
  • is the habitats regulations assessment OK?
  • do you have any other points?

The consultation runs until 19 April.

Five consultation events are being held in February and March – email if you would like to know more details.

There is also a separate consultation on community engagement that can be found here. This has grabbed more of the headlines, as it involves from £1m rising to £2.5m a year paid to communities while they are interested and the possibility of a local referendum as one of the options to confirm going ahead.

The NPS only covers England and Northern Ireland but Wales has simultaneously launched a consultation on the same issue. It can be found here.

This NPS has been in the wings for a long time – it was poised to be issued until the 2015 general election got in the way and has been imminent ever since. I’m not sure what the reason for the hold-up was. Tellingly, the government’s web page says the Welsh consultation will be launched on 8 November (it may have been corrected by the time you read this), suggesting it was all ready to go three months ago.

Finally, the full suite of NPSs first envisaged when the Planning Act was passed nearly 10 years ago is in progress – and this latest one is actually an extra.

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