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25 September 2020

875: DCO decisions – highway on track, nuclear unclear

Today’s entry reports on the latest decision on an application for development consent plus some miscellaneous news.

The Secretary of State for Transport has granted an application by Norfolk County Council for a highway project in Great Yarmouth – the Third River Crossing. The project was not automatically a nationally significant infrastructure project as it does not directly relate to the strategic road network.

Here are the facts and figures:

  • project: a new highway crossing the River Yare at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk;
  • promoter: Norfolk County Council (who previously obtained the Norwich Northern Distributor Road DCO);
  • application made: 30 April 2019;
  • one inspector, Dominic Young (his first);
  • 33 relevant representations – low;
  • nine written representations, low;
  • 75 questions in the first round, very low these days;
  • one compulsory acquisition hearing, two issue specific hearings and one open floor hearing – low;
  • two Local Impact Reports, Norfolk and Great Yarmouth;
  • examination exactly six months, recommendation exactly three months, decision exactly three months;
  • 513 days from application to decision, just under 17 months, just above average; and
  • 444 documents on the Planning Inspectorate web page on the date of the decision (not including the relevant representations), low.

Some points from the decision letter are as follows.

A useful reminder that even if a project was brought in to the regime via section 35, if there is a National Policy Statement it still applies and so the decision is made under section 104 rather than 105.

On biodiversity net gain the Environment Agency noted that there wasn’t necessarily any; the government noted that the Environment Bill was not yet law. I note that even if it was, it doesn’t apply to NSIPs.

I further note that the Applicant submitted a closing statement at the last deadline, but then an addendum to it four days later, being the last day of the examination, and it was accepted – a similar, but perhaps more extensive, late submission made more recently was not accepted.

Cadent was the latest utility to allege serious detriment but to get rebuffed.

A consent was waived in the DCO but this required the consent of the Environment Agency, which had not been forthcoming by the end of the examination. However it was given about two months later and the DCO therefore includes the disapplication. I had originally thought you might need such consents before you even made your application but this is clearly not the case.

A provision allowing compulsory purchase powers to be transferred to statutory undertakers with the consent of the Applicant was removed.

The next decision that is due is the twice-delayed decision on the proposed Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station on Anglesey, due on 30 September 2020.

It will be interesting to see what happens, because on 11 January 2019 the parent company of the Applicant, Hitachi, said the project was paused, and then on 16 September 2020 Hitachi said it was cancelled. To date the application remains live, though.

You may have noticed that the Planning Inspectorate website has been improved in terms of accessibility and that some hearings are getting subtitles added. This is a welcome improvement and is in compliance with the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018, some of whose obligations came into force this week.

For an example of subtitles, see the second part of the Preliminary Meeting for the Aquind Interconnector here  – you have to click the ‘subtitles/closed captions (c)’ button. It’s pretty good but has trouble with names – it called Aquind ‘akwind’ and ‘Aquin’ (which is not bad considering), the lead inspector Andrew Mahon ‘Marn’ and ‘Man’, and case manager Hefin Jones ‘having’ and ‘Evan’ – it did get DCO right though, albeit in lower case. Havant council was inevitably ‘haven’t’.

Finally, I had been worried that the scrapping of the budget would mean yet another delay to the National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS), which was timed to appear at the same time. However the Chancellor has announced in Parliament that the NIS will still come out this autumn, so that’s good; see Hansard, here.

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