986: DCO applications – the good, the bad and the unacceptable
Today’s entry muses the fate of this year’s DCO applications.
Seven DCO applications have been made this year – the earliest that has happened in any year so far – of which two are pending, two were accepted and three were withdrawn just before the end of their respective 28-day acceptance periods. What’s going on?
The two to be accepted were both for solar projects (Gate Burton and Cottam) and are quite close to each other on either side of the village of Willingham by Stow in Lincolnshire. The two pending ones are for another solar farm in south Lincolnshire and for a second terminal at Luton Airport.
The three to be withdrawn are for the Immingham Eastern Ro-Ro Terminal harbour project, the Hinckley National rail freight interchange project and the Cambridge Waste Water project. Let’s have a look at what happened, purely from the point of view of learning lessons for future projects, you understand.
The first one, submitted by Associated British Ports, was re-submitted a mere nine days after being withdrawn and was then accepted. One wonders whether a project whose shortcomings could be rectified in such a short space of time should have been threatened with non-acceptance, but perhaps it went from just unacceptable to just acceptable. Indeed, this supports our reform suggestion for a ‘presumptive’ pre-examination period which the Inspectorate could consider.
As we’ve said before, we acknowledge there are countervailing considerations on whether there should be a fixed statutory timescale for the pre-examination period. On the one hand, it would provide greater certainty but on the other some projects require a relatively longer pre-examination period to resolve particular matters. Nonetheless, a presumption would allow for consideration of whether a deficiency identified at the acceptance stage could be resolved in the pre-examination period.
The reasons for the potential non-acceptance can be found in this meeting note and attachments. The main reason seems to be that a work earmarked for environmental mitigation did not actually say what was going to happen to it.
Subsidiary reasons related to the disposal of dredge arisings, the use of approximate heights rather than maxima and minima when using the ‘Rochdale envelope’ method of assessment, and some other minor points. I note that the applicant was advised to use ‘the undertaker’ rather than ‘the Company’ but still hasn’t done so in the now accepted version.
The second withdrawal was by Tritax Symmetry and has not so far been resubmitted. Some post-withdrawal advice has been published here and hoo-boy.
The main beef is that the fairly extensive highway works were not assessed for greenhouse gas emissions. The second one intrigued me, it was that on-site electricity generation had the potential to exceed 50MW and be an NSIP in its own right, but a requirement limiting this to 49.9MW ‘may not meet the tests for requirements set out in the National Policy Statement for National Networks’. I’m not sure what that’s getting at in the NPS, there are some general statements at paragraph 4.9 and other references to requirements on other topics. In any event, the same restriction elsewhere in the DCO should be OK even if it can’t be a requirement.
Of note amongst the other issues was that some sites were not shown on nature conservation or water body plans – these are not just an afterthought but will be checked. Several small errors on the plans ‘do not give the impression that the application is of a satisfactory standard for acceptance’. This underlines that asking PINS to check documents in advance is generally a good idea if possible.
Nothing has yet appeared relating to the Anglian Water’s application other than the withdrawal letter.
Climate Change Committee
The Climate Change Committee issued a report on electricity decarbonisation on 9 March 2023 that can be found here. Essentially it says that the government has committed to decarbonising electricity by 2035 but has not provided a coherent strategy to achieve this. They expect electricity demand to increase from 280TWh in 2020 to 450TWh by 2035 and 600TWh by 2050.
Interestingly the CCC imagines 70% of generation coming from variable renewables (ie wind and solar), and only 20% from nuclear and BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage). The remaining 10% will be from ‘low-carbon back-up generation and other forms of flexibility’.
They also conclude that ‘some use of some hydrogen to provide on-demand power to meet peaks and back-up renewables appears necessary’.
Resilience is needed, including against ‘wind droughts’ a concept that was new on me.
Transport build delays
Finally, the Secretary of State for Transport has issued a written statement delaying the construction, but not the authorisation, of Phase 2a of HS2. The Government has confirmed that it continues to support the Lower Thames Crossing, but that a construction re-phase will apply, and the authorisation of the A27 Arundel and A5036 Port of Liverpool Access projects is to be delayed until the next road period.
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