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08 September 2017

769: One NPS advances, one is delayed and one is nowhere to be seen

Today’s entry reports on the latest status of three forthcoming National Policy Statements.

National Policy Statements (NPSs) form the backbone of the Planning Act 2008 regime, setting out need for particular types of project and the impacts that should be addressed by project promoters and assessed by inspectors and decision-makers. There doesn’t have to be one in place to make an application, though: for example, several road and rail projects were approved before the corresponding National Policy Statement was in place.

While there are ten NPSs currently in place, three more are expected: one for water supply, airports and the geological disposal of radioactive waste.

Water supply

This NPS will cover reservoirs, dams and water transfer projects. There may be a few coming up as it tends to rain less where water is needed.

Being terribly modern, the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has tweeted that the NPS is to be developed and that one can email watersupplynps@defra.gsi.gov.uk to be provided with updates.

This may be a small step but it is the first public acknowledgement that the NPS will be published after all.

Defra, don’t forget that the corresponding nationally significant infrastructure project types have not yet been brought into force in the Planning Act.

Airports

The government consulted on a draft Airports NPS from February to May, or to give it its full title the ‘Draft Airports National Policy Statement: new runway capacity and infrastructure at airports in the South East of England’, or to give its purpose ‘The Airports NPS provides the primary basis for decision making on development consent applications for a Northwest Runway at Heathrow Airport’. So let’s call it the Airport NPS.

The consultation document promised that updated passenger forecasts would be made available during the consultation period so that they could be taken into account in responses. Due (officially) to the intervention of the general election this did not happen, and a draft air quality plan was also delayed, although the final plan came out before its deadline of 31 July.

Yesterday the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP announced (here, see page 139) that there would be a further consultation on the passenger forecast and air quality aspects of the Airport NPS. He didn’t actually launch the consultation, as the forecasts still aren’t available, but said it would take place later this year.

Meanwhile, the Transport Select Committee will be reconstituted on Monday (members: Lilian Greenwood (Lab) in the chair, Ronnie Cowan (SNP), Steve Double (Con), Paul Girvan (DUP), Huw Merriman (Con), Luke Pollard (Lab), Laura Smith (Lab), Iain Stewart (Con), Graham Stringer (Lab), Martin Vickers (Con) and Daniel Zeichner (Lab)) and we must wait to see if it invites further submissions before holding evidence sessions (before the election it received evidence and timetabled one evidence session but cancelled it).

The finalisation of the NPS having already been delayed from the end of this year to ‘the first half of next year’ may be delayed further, although the government is sticking to the first half of next year. I suspect it will be on or just before 30 June in that case.

Also yesterday, the government published an interim report into the consultation so far, by Sir Jeremy Sullivan, a retired planning judge (I like the way his ‘biography‘ on the gov.uk website seems to think that despite his distinguished career his only claim to fame is supervising this consultation).

He thought the consultation was well-planned and with one exception, well-executed. The one exception was a leaflet distributed to 1.5 million households which (a) was too much of a ‘hard sell’ for Heathrow and (b) listed 20 local consultation events but didn’t say where they were being held.

Geological disposal of radioactive waste

The third NPS that is on the cards is to deal with the project to dispose of radioactive waste in deep storage somewhere as yet undetermined. It’s another one-project NPS, effectively, although the NPS will also cover test boreholes and there may be more than one final site.

I understand that this NPS was drafted back in 2015 when it was delayed by that election and has not been seen since.

A Mr Darryl Lee established at the end of May via a Freedom of Information request that the NPS has not yet been published, and there is no date for when it will be published. The government wouldn’t release the draft because it can withhold documents that are unfinished. With a certain exasperation the government signs off with ‘we have received a number of freedom of information requests from you and would like to understand any underlying concerns you may have’.

Other NPSs

No other NPSs have been mooted, but the first ones are getting a bit old now. The suite of six energy NPSs was designated in June 2011, over six years ago, and the ports and waste water ones were designated over five years ago. They say they will be kept under review, but the waste water one explicitly says this is expected to be every five years or so.

So, how about thinking about reviewing the NPSs that are over five years old?