825: First electronic-only DCO application made
Today’s entry reports on the first Development Consent Order applications not to be submitted in hard copy.
On 11 April, VPI Immingham Ltd made a DCO application for a power station on Humberside, closely followed by National Highways making its latest application, for the A38 Derby Junctions project, on 23 April. Instead of delivering a truckload of application documents to the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol, it was a matter of dropping a few USBs off that would fit into a small envelope.
These are part of a trial of electronic only applications being undertaken by the Inspectorate. Not only will no hard copy be needed when the application is made, but copies of the application will not need to be deposited in libraries, as long as they have free electronic access to the online version of the application. It remains to be seen whether any hard copies are needed at later stages in the process such as at hearings, but let’s hope they can be avoided altogether. Environmental Statements may list the loss of some mature trees as an environmental impact, but they probably don’t list the loss of any trees that was occasioned by printing the Environmental Statement itself (along with the other application documents).
This is clearly to be welcomed by all of us, not just trees, with one small note of caution, namely that those who do not have access to the Internet can still participate in the examination of an application. Ensuring wide availability of free online access to applications is one way to achieve that; other ways should be thought about. Furthermore, those with lower levels of Internet access may not be able to handle large electronic files, which only seem to be getting larger, while acknowledging the corresponding difficulties in handling documents that have been split into lots of pieces.
It has been fairly routine to have a hard copy of an application at each hearing, but I haven’t spotted it getting much use at the ones I have been to recently – the main screen that displays hearing agendas and occasionally other documents is taking its input from the Inspectorate website rather than any hard copies. However, it would probably be a good idea to have one or more PCs available at hearings to allow application and other documents to be browsed.
Another point to note is that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Application Form Guidance says at paragraph 11 ‘applicants are required to submit full applications in both electronic and hard copy formats’, so that will need to change pronto.
I hope the trial of these applications and a couple of others to follow is successful and irons out any issues for when all applications can be made electronic-only (and perhaps one day are required to be made electronic-only).