839: DCO application news
Today’s entry reports on the latest on Development Consent Order applications.
The heady heights of 30
With an application for a generating station and energy from waste (or as it calls it, ‘waste to energy’) project on Wednesday, the number of live DCO applications has reached 30 for the first time.
Considering that there have only ever been 112 applications since the regime started in 2010, it is quite a peak that 30 of them are being considered now.
A previous peak was reached in August 2014 when there were 27 live applications. That peak consisted of 19 energy projects, six transport projects and two water / waste projects. Today’s peak consists of 16 transport projects and 14 energy projects, and ten of the former are being promoted by Highways England.
Decisions and prorogation
There may be a couple more new applications in the next two weeks but at the start of October the number of live applications will drop because not one but four are to be decided between 2 and 10 October, shortly followed by the major decision on the Wylfa nuclear power project on 23 October. Four of those five decisions are energy, so if no new applications are made, the split will be 15 transport and 10 energy projects by the end of October.
I have been asked if it is possible to decide applications during prorogation (ie the period between parliamentary sessions), which those first four will be. The answer is yes. The government, who decides applications, is still operating between sessions, there is no ‘purdah’ during that period. It might be inappropriate to decide an application in the run-up to a general election for that reason, although it might depend on the significance of the application.
I have been through my records and no applications have yet been decided during prorogation, as it happens. One, however, was decided during ‘dissolution’ (ie the period between parliament closing before an election and reopening afterwards). That was the Whitemoss landfill project in Lancashire, which was controversial, having the second highest number of relevant representations at 3297. However it was decided on 20 May 2015, after the election and before the start of the next parliamentary session on 27 May.
Individual DCO news
The statutory consultation into the project to expand Heathrow Airport closes today, and may well beat the record for the number of responses currently held by the Lower Thames Crossing (28,493). Perhaps I should say ‘a’ project to expand the airport, because it is one of two on the Planning Inspectorate list, the other being a rival project promoted by Arora Holdings. That project seeks to replace various elements of Heathrow Airport Ltd’s project with its own versions; it has recently sought and received a scoping opinion.
The Rail Central rail freight project is having a bit of a torrid time, having previously applied for a nine-month delay to its preliminary meeting, it has now applied for a further year’s delay to it. The lead inspector has written a letter which, in the typical style of the Planning Inspectorate, strongly hints that the application should be withdrawn without actually saying so. The issue appears to be the adequacy of transport assessments and mitigation.
On the A585 Windy Harbour project, the inspector has decided not to accept a proposal to change the application to include additional land because although the promoter got the consent of the landowners, it did not get the consent of other parties with an interest in the land. The letter can be found here. Something for all of us to note.
Highways England successfully defended a judicial review challenge to its preferred corridor announcement for the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway, launched by a local wildlife trust (or strictly speaking the Secretary of State for Transport successfully defended his decision to accept Highways England’s recommendation). The challenge was on the grounds of ‘it should have had a strategic environmental assessment’ – but it is a project to which environmental impact assessment will apply, not a plan that would need SEA, and it was not ‘required’ anyway; and also ‘it should have had a habitats regulations assessment’, but that was also for the application stage. The judgment can be found here.