844: A decision, a delay and a withdrawal
Today’s entry reports on the fate of three Development Consent Order applications.
First, a belated report of the decision on the Northampton Gateway Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI), which was made on 10 October amidst a glut of other news.
- project: an SRFI with up to 6m sq ft of warehousing, north of Towcester in Northamptonshire;
- promoter: Roxhill Developments;
- application made: 21 May 2018;
- three inspectors, Philip Asquith (his sixth), David Brock (his first, he has recently withdrawn from the Southampton to London Pipeline examination) and Helen Cassini, who was appointed two months into the examination;
- 851 relevant representations, high;
- 80 written representations, high;
- 378 questions in the first round, fairly high;
- two compulsory acquisition hearings, five issue specific hearings and one open floor hearing – above average;
- three Local Impact Reports, from Northamptonshire, Northampton and South Northamptonshire;
- examination exactly six months, recommendation exactly three months, decision exactly three months;
- 506 days from application to decision, 16 1/2 months, about average; and
- 889 documents on the Planning Inspectorate web page on the date of the decision (not including the relevant representations), fairly high.
Notes from the decision letter.
Need for SRFIs, particularly ones near each other, is a bit of an issue, but the government decided that the proximity of DIRFT at Daventry (29km away) did not undermine the need for this application. Future proposals were not considered as that is ‘not the correct approach’, which I take to assume that later proposals have to fit in with earlier ones, not the other way round. The government noted that it was not possible to carry out a cumulative assessment for the slightly later application for the Rail Central SRFI due to the uncertainty around its traffic data (see below).
The government was satisfied that the rail network could accommodate the minimum four trains per day that makes the project nationally significant (and did not add a requested requirement that this could not impact passenger services) and also that the applicant did not need to know where the trains were going to or coming from at this stage.
‘The Secretary of States [sic] does not therefore anticipate Brexit as a potential obstacle to the availability of an adequate workforce for the Proposed Development.’
A requirement (no. 32) was nearly dropped for lack of ‘necessity’ but the government decided to include it exceptionally.
A proposed £300,000 community fund contribution was ignored for the purposes of the decision. It was OK to include in a s106 agreement (so it still has to be paid) but did not satisfy paragraph 4.10 of the National Policy Statement.
National Highways had complained about a deemed consent provision and the applicant had pointed out that they had one in their own DCOs (eg the M4 order). The government noted that there was a second notification stage in that case and so has added that to this DCO.
Interesting that ‘The Secretary of State has received correspondence from Andrea Leadsom MP …’, who is another DCO-deciding Secretary of State (see below) and the local MP.
Secondly, the delay. This is to the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station application, whose decision date was 23 October. The most recent document on the Planning Inspectorate website was to announce the end of the examination, dated 24 April.
At around 5.15pm on the decision day a lengthy letter appeared on the Planning Inspectorate website launching a consultation on a large number of issues (by my count, 33), for response by 31 December at 11.59pm; the decision date has consequently been extended to 31 March 2020. Does the Secretary of State (Andrea Leadsom) realise that is the same date as she has extended the Hornsea 3 decision until?
After having only one late decision in the first 43, there was a rash of late decisions from late 2015 to late 2017, namely six out of 25. This appeared to have stopped, but it has now restarted, with two late decisions announced this month out of five. See this chart of timeliness of each DCO decision to date over time – when a decision is delayed it is usually significantly delayed:
Click image to enlarge
Third, the much-delayed Rail Central SRFI application has been formally withdrawn, see the letter here.
The project had been severely delayed before the examination had started by having to rerun transport assessments and the applicants had asked for the preliminary meeting to be delayed by two years, which the inspectors refused. Although disagreeing with that decision, the applicants have decided to withdraw and resubmit the application at a later date.