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25 January 2019

817: More developments in infrastructure planning

Today’s entry reports on a further miscellany of Planning Act 2008-related news.

The first bit of news is about a blank web page, which can be found here.

Why is that newsworthy? Well, it heralds the first material change to a Development Consent Order (DCO) in over ten years of the regime’s existence. The application hasn’t been made yet but the Planning Inspectorate has decided to treat it like a DCO application with its own page, tabs, the lot. Correction orders and non-material changes are just addenda to the web page of the original DCO application.

That makes sense because the material change process is like a mini-DCO process. Although an examination can be dispensed with altogether, if it occurs it is four rather than six months, and the recommendation and decision periods are two rather than three months.

A clue as to what this change is can be seen at the top right of the page: it is to remove a requirement to install an Acoustic Fish Deterrent system. Fish tend to congregate near the slightly warmer water of a nuclear power station’s cooling water system’s outflow. Presumably the project’s promoters think this is now an unnecessary expense, with the added benefit of no deaf fish in the Somerset area.

While on the subject of nuclear power, it has probably not escaped your notice that Hitachi has announced that it is suspending work on the proposed Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station on the north coast of Anglesey. The application for the corresponding DCO was made on 1 June 2018, and is now half way through its examination. Horizon Nuclear Power Ltd, the applicant, has sent a letter to the Planning Inspectorate to the effect that it is continuing with its application for the moment, whilst it consults on the best way forward. The letter can be found here.

The BBC wonders if there is something about Wales that means big infrastructure projects aren’t going ahead, mentioning the Swansea Tidal Lagoon as well. It concludes that the new National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, which met for the first time in November, may produce the answers.

I haven’t reported on that body before: it is similar to the National Infrastructure Commission, and covers energy, transport, water and sewerage, drainage, waste, digital communications, flood and coastal erosion. It has a fiscal remit like the NIC (1-1.2% of GDP for the NIC) but at the moment the level of that has not been revealed. It has a website here with pictures of its commissioners, who have been photographed under a rather harsh overhead light. Non-Welsh speakers will also learn that the Welsh for infrastructure is seilwaith.

On a sad note, one of the Planning Inspectorate’s veteran inspectors of DCOs died last week during the latest examination he had been appointed to. Dr Peter Widd, whom I remember from the Able Marine Energy Park examination as an expert on maritime matters, also acted as a panel member on the Hornsea offshore wind farms one and two and the Swansea Tidal Lagoon examinations. He was one of the Infrastructure Planning Commission’s original commissioners and recently was one of two inspectors on the Lake Lothing crossing application, which was about six weeks into its examination. He is being replaced by Stephen Roscoe. Condolences to his family, colleagues and friends.

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