857: A DCO decision and another delay
Today’s entry reports on the latest decision on a Development Consent Order application and a delay to another.
Last week the government issued a decision on time for the North Shropshire electric line project. If you are looking for the decision on the A63 Castle Street Hull highway project, the deadline came and went on 24 March with no announcement as of yet, although the government did conduct two rounds of questions during the decision stage.
The stats on the North Shropshire project are as follows:
- project: a 132kv power line on wooden poles from Oswestry to Wem in Shropshire;
- promoter: Scottish Power Energy Networks (SPEN);
- application made: 12 November 2018;
- one inspector, Paul Hudson (his seventh, including the first ever DCO);
- 14 relevant representations, very low;
- five written representations, very low;
- 40 questions in the first round, very low
- one compulsory acquisition hearing, two issue specific hearings and no open floor hearings – very low;
- one Local Impact Report, from Shropshire;
- examination exactly six months, recommendation exactly three months, decision exactly three months;
- 494 days from application to decision, 16 and a bit months, about average; and
- 255 documents on the Planning Inspectorate web page on the date of the decision (not including the relevant representations), very low.
Given the number of ‘very low’ indications above, this was not a complex or controversial project. The decision letter, as always, has some points worth noting nevertheless despite being only 11 pages long.
A paragraph of changes to the application concludes that the project did not change in a material way. I think a distinction should be made between changes to the application (ie the documents) and changes to the project (ie what is intended to be built). The former are often made to better describe the latter, which stays the same, whether due to errors or for other reasons. Those should not be considered in the same way, and should tend to be waved through, compared to changes to the underlying project itself, which should be subjected to the proper change process.
Paragraph 18 of the decision letter contains what is probably to be standard text on the issue of net zero for the moment:
On 27 June 2019, following advice from the Committee on Climate Change, the UK Government announced a new carbon reduction ‘net zero’ target for 2050 – this was given effect by an amendment to the Climate Change Act 2008 (the target for the net UK carbon account for 2050 changed from 80% to 100% below the 1990 baseline). The Secretary of State notes that the energy NPSs continue to form the basis for decision-making under the Planning Act 2008. He further notes that the ExA concludes that the principle of the Development is in line with the national need for secure and reliable supplies of electricity as part of the transition to a low carbon economy. The Secretary of State therefore considers that granting consent for the Application would not be incompatible with the amendment to the Climate Change Act.
The Canal and River Trust wanted the route to go under the Montgomery Canal on visual grounds but this was not accepted; they also wanted their consent to be required before compulsory acquisition powers were exercised over any statutory undertaker’s land – the inspector agreed to change the DCO to add this in his recommendation, but the government reversed that step, saying the power was too wide.
With the delay to the A63 DCO that means there are currently nine delayed DCO decisions, and no decision delayed since October 2019 has yet been made. Four of them, all transport ones, have no new decision date; five do have a new decision date. One of those is the Wylfa nuclear power station, whose new decision date is next Tuesday, 31 March. The next decision to reach its original date is another significant one, A303 Stonehenge, on 2 April.