994: Planning Act Blog Party, the return of nuclear at Wylfa, and grid-related delays to solar
Today’s entry looks at various Parliamentary infrastructure news as well as inviting you to our Planning Act Blog Party!
Nukes at Wylfa
The Welsh Affairs Committee published their report on nuclear energy in Wales. The committee bats away anti-nuclear arguments and considers that ‘nuclear energy has a strong role to play, as part of a mix of low carbon sources, in achieving net zero and energy security’, particularly in the context of the intermittent supply provided by other forms of clean energy. The Committee rebukes ongoing uncertainty for the people of Ynys Mon and states that they are ‘concerned that expectations are being raised again.. and question how long the uncertainty can continue about whether or not a new nuclear build will be delivered at Wylfa’.
It is well known that Horizon’s proposals at Wylfa were withdrawn following a failure to reach financing agreements between Hitachi and the UK Government. While the application was never decided, it was widely considered bizarre to see part of the recommendation report from the Examining Authority holding that power for six million homes did not outweigh the adverse impact on the network of SSSIs and that ‘alternative solutions’ could not be ruled out because of the specific configuration of the proposals.
One of the Committee’s specific recommendations relates to the land ownership at the Wylfa site:
‘Given that the land at Wylfa Newydd is owned by Hitachi, it is unclear what the current state of play is at the site. If there is to be new nuclear at Wylfa, the issue of ownership of the land needs to be addressed. We reiterate a recommendation of our predecessor Committee and call on the UK Government to encourage Hitachi to sell the Wylfa Newydd site or take part in a consortium of developers to allow future development.’
Interestingly, this is followed by a recommendation that ‘Wylfa should be the location of the next gigawatt-scale nuclear generation plant after Sizewell C’, a recommendation related to its view that the Government ‘needs to pursue new gigawatt-scale plants alongside its policy on SMRs’ given ‘the [SMR / AMR] technology is still in development phase.’ Co-location between, GW-scale nuclear generation and Small Modular Reactors and Advanced Nuclear Reactors is clearly not insurmountable, but it makes the aforementioned recommendation that a ‘consortium of developers’ should be involved a little more difficult.
Solar is taking so long
Meanwhile, the Environmental Audit Committee has written to the Government to berate the slow roll-out of grid connections for solar. An interesting little factoid in the letter is that in order to meet the 70GW target from the British Energy Security Strategy, current rates of solar deployment need to double, particularly for rooftops. Hot boffins at the University of Liverpool have worked out that an ‘average monthly installation rate of 361 MWp would be required’ to meet the target. Meanwhile, in Germany, in 2011-12, they managed to install an average of 680 MWp per month.
In terms of concrete recommendations, the letter calls for (slightly vague) collaboration between the government, DNOs and National Grid, but follows up by noting a specific recommendation that the Government should be ‘encouraging DNOs and the National Grid to drop requirements for unnecessary export limiters designed for fossil fuel generators.’
Perhaps one of the things that may speed things up for both solar and nuclear is the Planning Inspectorate and DLUHC’s recently announced launch of the Early Adopters programme. The pilot will cover programme planning; pre-application principal areas of disagreement statements (PADS) (currently being trialled on the A66 and the Lower Thames Crossing projects); something relating to ‘demonstrating regard to section 51 [and statutory] advice’ (one wonders whether this is putting the cart before the horse in ensuring more equivocal advice); and the pilot also seeks to trial ‘mature outline control document production’ (perhaps encouraging greater engagement on control documents, which hopefully won’t have the perverse effect of delaying application submission). Only projects that are to be submitted between September 2023 and March 2024 can take part. The deadline to apply is 12 May 2023.
Zones of Influence
Whilst not an NSIP issue, an interesting lesson has arisen from an appealed planning permission: Buckinghamshire Council refused planning permission for residential development in 2021. The developer appealed to the Secretary of State, and Buckinghamshire Council then argued that the Habitats Regulation Assessment of a nearby local plan had identified a Zone of Influence for the new Chiltern Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation, which impacted the case for the development.
That local-plan-HRA identified that recreational pressure was having an adverse effect on the site. Both the developer and the local authority were working on a mitigation strategy, but the Inspector allowed the appeal (and thereby granted planning permission) without considering the new HRA issue. The Secretary of State agreed to an order quashing the decision. Promoters should therefore be aware of potentially new HRA issues arising at the point of a decision, even if they arose after the initial decision-making or examination phase. Incidentally, this recently proposed environmental permit for activities at Hinkley Point C, notes a fresh HRA was carried out in 2023 (in respect of those activities that are to be permitted) for a project that was initially given development consent in 2013.
Planning Act Blog Party!
We are excited to be celebrating our 1000th Planning Act blog next month, and to mark this milestone, we would like to invite you to a party, including the return of our annual quiz.
Drinks, nibbles, and fun will be provided. The event will take place on 15 June 2023 from 6.00pm until 9.30pm.
Join forces and submit your team of three to five players; we want to see creative team names for a fun-filled evening of thought-provoking questions, activities, yummy food, and drinks, as well as top prizes! If you would like to attend but would need to join a combined, randomly selected team, then please let us know.
To RSVP, please click here to email our events team with your chosen team name and list of team members by Thursday 1 June 2023.
We hope to see you there!