982: Bye bye BEIS and other news
Today’s entry reports on the changes to government departments and other infrastructure planning related news from the last week.
Bye bye BEIS
As a knock-on effect of the Prime Minister’s ethical adviser deciding that Conservative Party chair Nadhim Zahawi had breached the ministerial code, a mini reshuffle took place this week with an added shake-up of government departments.
The business parts of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have joined the Department for International Trade to become the Department for Business and Trade, leaving the energy parts as the renamed Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. This is essentially a reversion to the old Department for Energy and Climate Change. The most important issue is obviously how to pronounce the name, with ‘deznez’ taking an early lead. The secretaries of state for these two departments remain as Grant Shapps and Kemi Badenoch respectively.
Also of relevance to infrastructure planning, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has had its digital and science elements removed to create a new department (so the total number of departments increases by one), of Science, Innovation and Technology. Just as well heritage isn’t included. Michelle Donelan becomes the secretary of state for the new department and Lucy Frazer of the old one, meaning we get yet another planning minister, Rachel Maclean, MP for Redditch. Her degree was in experimental psychology…
Environmental Improvement Plan
In January 2018 the government published its first ‘25-year Environment Plan‘, with a commitment to update this every five years. The 2023 version has now been published (the Environment Act allowed it to be published by 31 January, actually five years and 20 days after the first one). The new title is the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023.
The headline-grabbing measure was to aim for everyone to be within 15 minutes’ walk of a green or blue space (only 62% of people are estimated to meet that currently). Also of interest: sustainable drainage systems (SUDS) will be required for all new developments; a map of protected habitats will be published by the end of the year as part of the target of ’30 by 30′ – protecting 30% of the country by 2030; on air quality there will be further Clean Air Zones; and there will be a new duty to consult the secretary of state on planning applications that will affect ancient woodlands.
Environmental outcomes reports, the replacement for environmental statements, are mentioned a few times but without any new detail.
The Built Environment Committee of the House of Lords has issued a brief report into infrastructure policy-making and implementation, which can be found here.
There are several recommendations, some relating to prioritisation (or lack of it) of projects in the government’s major projects pipeline. One is that DCOs should not require further permissions before construction can begin, which allow objectors to make multiple objections on the same issue. I’m not sure that many DCOs do involve further actual planning permissions, but discharging requirements can sometimes involve revisiting old issues.
There have been two challenges to the grant of the DCOs for the East Anglia One North and Two offshore windfarms. One, by ‘Substation Action Save East Suffolk’ (SASES), was granted permission for a hearing in July last year but then dismissed on all grounds in December. It was covered in this blog post. The SASES website says it is being appealed.
The second was by ‘Suffolk Energy Action Solutions’ (SEAS – confusingly similar). This was refused permission on the papers in July last year and also at a renewed hearing in the High Court in October (the judgment can be found here). The claimants appealed to the Court of Appeal and unusually the latter has granted permission in a judgment from last week. The brief judgment can be found on LinkedIn here.
Lord Justice Warby grants permission and remits the case back to the High Court. The issue is certainly one of wider interest: it is about agreements reached with landowners whereby they receive payments for options and agree not to object to the project at the examination, does that really represent an unlawful ‘chilling effect’ on the ability to hear all the issues at the examination? This is something routinely done by DCO applicants and landowners with a view to resolving issues and avoid further incurring of costs.
Finally, the decision on the Hornsea Four offshore windfarm DCO application has been delayed from 22 February to 12 July. It gets the records for (a) earliest postponement – a full two weeks before the decision was originally due – and (b) the most anodyne reason for the delay given so far – to enable the Department ‘to seek further information from the Applicant and ensure there is sufficient time to allow for consideration of this information by other interested parties’. I had thought the main issue would be the overlap with the proposed CO2 store underneath a large chunk of the windfarm, but a request from the Secretary of State is all about seabird compensation.
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