Meeting With the Planning Inspector
On Tuesday 21 January 2014, approximately 30 TASC members attended a meeting with Mark Wilson of the Planning Inspectorate (PINS). The intention was to get a clearer idea of how the planning process worked, and how to make our objections to Sizewell C. Mr Wilson made a presentation outlining the different stages of the planning process for Sizewell C & D, after which there was an opportunity to ask questions.
The meeting was extremely useful as it helped us to understand at least some of the intricacies of the infrastructure planning process. Here is an outline.
Pre-application: This is the phase we are in currently. Mr Wilson emphasised the importance of influencing EDF in its decision-making now. After the application goes in, it is really too late for people to make a difference to it.
Local Authorities: They are statutory consultees and must submit a Local Impact Report. Any concerns we have about EDF’s consultation process should be reported to the Local Authority with a copy to the Planning Inspectorate.
Preliminary works applications: These are reviewed and granted by the Local Authorities. (It was interesting that Mr Wilson said he ‘wished EDF wouldn’t do this’, i.e. deliberately exclude these from the main application. Our Local Authorities have already granted permission for the cutting down of trees, relocation of various species, drilling of bore holes etc. It looks like development consent by stealth.)
The Development Consent Process: Mr. Wilson explained that this may begin some time next year, most likely mid- to late 2015. This of course will be after Stage 2 Consultation which is planned for autumn 2014. The application will go to the Planning Inspectorate, hundreds if not thousands of pages of documents, and there will be just 28 days in which to accept it for examination or not.
Registration: There will be an interval of six weeks only in which people can register their interest. If you do not register at this time, you cannot take part in the hearing.
The Preliminary meeting: This will be held locally. The purpose is to set up a draft timetable, giving deadlines for written representations and hearings. No other issues will be discussed.
The Examination: Only six months are allowed for this and must be strictly adhered to. The written submissions will be examined, and then the Inspectors will decide what further information they need. The Hearings will therefore be driven by the Inspectors’ questions. Replies are limited to 3 minutes per individual, 10 for groups.
A report will be written by the Inspectors along with a recommendation to the Secretary of State. There will be a further three months in which a final decision will be made.
Judicial review: There will be only six weeks in which this could be requested.
Who are the Examiners? These will be Senior Planning Inspectors who may not know anything about nuclear power. For the Hinkley Point C inquiry there were five, including a lawyer, town planner and experts on transport and the environment.
Licences: Various bodies, including the Environment Agency, Marine Management Organization, Office For Nuclear Regulation and Natural England, have to agree the granting of licences, without which the development cannot go ahead. These lie outside the Examination. Any concerns we have with such issues must be taken to these bodies. We are already actively involved in these dialogues, but must do more.
Mr Wilson was a very pleasant chap however, his view of the planning process was at odds with at least some of those in the audience. He described the process at Hinkley as “convivial” and considered the process to be structured, efficient and certain.
During the question and answer session it became clear that a great deal of faith is placed on the consultation done by EDF. The consultation is done in two stages. We have had stage 1 and the responses that were submitted by members of the public have been considered by EDF who supposedly weigh up the comments and address them in the stage 2 consultation. The consultation document that EDF submits to the planning inspectorate as part of the submission is not made public. This means that EDF have full control over what they say about how the consultation is run, what aspects of the project were of concern to people etc. Mr Wilson admitted that at Hinkley this had caused some consternation as members of the public who were unhappy about how the consultation had been run did not trust EDF to be candid in the submission to the planning inspectorate.
Mr Wilson suggested looking at the planning act 2008 which lays out minimum standards for the consultation and at advice note 14 (download here) on compiling the consultation report. This sets out what the consultation has to include. People who participated in the stage 1 consultation were highly critical about the lack of detail supplied by EDF and questioned the amount of flexibility EDF were able to have in the plans Mr Wilson said that there are outlines about how much flexibility a developer is allowed to have in Advice Note Nine (download here) and that the stage 2 consultation should include much more detail.
The question was asked whether in the event of the plans being rejected by the planning inspectorate at the development consent stage it would be open to a legal challenge by EDF or whether compensation would have to be paid to EDF. Mr Wilson said that he did not know as this scenario had never been considered.
Members of the audience said that it was difficult to know where to raise the concerns they have over various aspects of the development. Although members of TASC participated in the consultation, as a process which is fully controlled by EDF, it is not entirely trusted, Mr Wilson suggested lobbying our local authority because as statutory consultees, they submit a local impact report. Other statutory bodies include the Marine Management Organisation and the environment agency.
The Examining Authority have a narrow remit with strict guidelines as to what will and will not be included when considering an application for development consent. The things that will not be included are:
Assessment Alternative sites or energy generation methods
Seismic risk (vibratory ground motion);