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House of Commons
Session 2007 - 08
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General Committee Debates

Planning Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Sir John Butterfill, † Mr. Eric Illsley
Benyon, Mr. Richard (Newbury) (Con)
Betts, Mr. Clive (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab)
Brake, Tom (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) (Lab)
Curry, Mr. David (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)
Duddridge, James (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con)
Ellman, Mrs. Louise (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op)
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
Healey, John (Minister for Local Government)
Jones, Mr. David (Clwyd, West) (Con)
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui (Beckenham) (Con)
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)
Michael, Alun (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
Mole, Chris (Ipswich) (Lab)
Neill, Robert (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Rogerson, Dan (North Cornwall) (LD)
Sheridan, Jim (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab)
Watts, Mr. Dave (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Alan Sandall, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 22 January 2008


[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]

Planning Bill

Further written evidence to be reported to the House

10.30 am
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Illsley, would it be in order to ask the Government when we can expect to see the consultation on the draft regulations on the community infrastructure levy? I understand the need to press on so that we can spend as much time on the measures as they deserve, but until we have seen the draft consultation it will be difficult to debate the clauses in any depth and with any knowledge of how the bodies concerned will be affected and what their reaction will be. May I also ask when we can expect to see the clauses relating to the powers of the Welsh Assembly?
I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. Illsley, and hope that you are not as croaky as you sound and are not suffering too much from the bug that many people have.
The Chairman: That is not a point of order for the Chair; it is a point for debate and for the Government.
The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): On a point of information, we propose to publish, as we have signalled, a consultation document that will flesh out that issue in more detail and help the Committee in its consideration of the details of the community infrastructure levy when we get to that point in the proceedings. That consultation will look at how we propose to develop the community infrastructure levy, but not at the draft regulations requested by the hon. Lady, which will clearly come later. I will ensure that that is published in good time so that members of the Committee can consider it alongside any amendments which they might wish to propose when we come to that part of the Bill.
In relation to matters affecting the powers of the Welsh Assembly Government, the hon. Lady will already have heard me say that that relates to a later stage in the Bill. She will have heard me give an undertaking that any Government amendments will be tabled within the conventional times for the Committee. I will endeavour to do better than that, and aim to ensure that any Government amendments are tabled a week in advance of the likely proceedings. Clearly, that will depend on the progress that we make in Committee, but I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Lady and to members of the Committee.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): Further to that point of order—
The Chairman: Order. There is no point of order.
Mr. Jones: On a point of order, Mr. Illsley. The Minister referred again to the devolution of powers to the Welsh Assembly Government, but I am perturbed that, as I understood the briefing held by the Wales Office some three weeks ago, we are also talking about the devolution of legislative competence to the Welsh Assembly, which is rather more significant. Will the Minister please explain whether the Government still intend to include devolutionary powers in the Bill?
The Chairman: That is simply a matter for debate and can be dealt with during the consideration of the Bill. I am grateful to the Minister for enlightening us on the community infrastructure levy.

Clause 13

Nationally significant infrastructure projects: general
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): I beg to move amendment No. 96, in clause 13, page 7, line 9, leave out ‘storage of gas’ and insert ‘gas storage facilities’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 114 to 121, 157 and 158.
I call Mr. Healey.
Jim Fitzpatrick: That mistake is easily undertaken, Mr. Illsley. My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government has carried the whole Government burden for this Bill so far, with assistance from our right hon. and hon. Friends, so I am pleased to be able to assist him today. It is a pleasure to see you presiding over the Committee this morning, Mr. Illsley, and I am sorry that you do not sound in the best of health. I have not yet had the opportunity to welcome you and am happy to take the chance to do so now. I hope that you will allow me a little licence to make some general opening remarks in moving the amendment, as there are some similarities between its drafting and that of a number of the other Government amendments relating to clause 13.
The clause lists the type of projects that we consider to be of national significance, subject to the thresholds in clauses 14 to 26. Many of those replicate the thresholds already in existing legislation. It is important to make it clear, therefore, that the majority of projects that we define as nationally significant are those which have already been decided by Ministers. We have taken decision making away from local authorities only in the small number of cases in which there is a strong case. In most cases, given the national significance, we would have expected to call those in anyway. For instance, as the UK’s indigenous gas supplies decline and we become increasingly dependent on imports, gas infrastructure will become much more important to the security of our national energy supply. Failing to modernise that infrastructure in a timely fashion might mean that we do not have enough capacity to meet our energy demands.
Equally, however, we are also exploring options for devolving decision making in relation to transport schemes that fall under the thresholds in the Bill, such as local highway and local light rail schemes. The Department for Transport will be discussing that with the Local Government Association and other stakeholders over the coming months, with the aim of identifying possible options for implementation. The Government remain committed, as set out in “Strong and Prosperous Communities—The Local Government White Paper”, to ensuring that decision making is at as local a level as possible, so that it can fully reflect local circumstances and needs.
The changes in amendment No. 96 and the other Government amendments have come about for three main reasons. First, they have come about as a result of consultation responses to the planning White Paper. As members of the Committee are aware, over 30,000 responses were received, and it has therefore taken time to fully digest all the comments. Some of the amendments, such as that on including an air freight threshold in clause 19, are in direct response to that process.
Secondly, the changes have come about because we are bringing together elements of legislation within 13 different Acts from the past 40 years. Due to the nature of creating a single consent regime, it has taken us time to iron out the precise terminology that must be used to ensure the correct legal framework for the infrastructure planning commission to operate and to ensure consistency.
Thirdly, the changes have come about to ensure that we have captured the necessary geographical scope. For instance, the power to add a new type of nationally significant project needs to extend to English waters as well as to England itself. The infrastructure essential to the UK’s response to climate change could relate to offshore sources, and we cannot be certain that new, innovative technologies would necessarily fall under the definitions in clause 13. It is, therefore, a sensible precaution to ensure that new types of nationally significant projects in English waters can be added when there is a strong case to do so.
The specifics of amendments Nos. 115, 117, 119 and 120 change the types of gas storage project that are nationally significant infrastructure projects and would thus fall within the remit of the IPC. The amendments add thresholds consisting of a specified working capacity and a maximum flow rate. The alteration of facilities is covered, as well as their initial creation or use.
Amendments Nos. 96, 114, 116, 118, 121, 157 and 158 are drafting and definitional amendments, which are needed as a result of the changes that I have just outlined. Under the amendments, projects must satisfy one of two thresholds to qualify for consideration by the IPC. Either the expected working capacity should be at least 43 million standard cubic metres, or the expected maximum flow rate should be at least 4.5 million standard cubic metres per day. The starting point for the capacity test was that it is roughly equivalent to 1 per cent. of the current storage capacity in Great Britain, which stood at 4,366 million standard cubic metres in April 2007. The flow rate is based on 1 per cent. of the highest day demand in Great Britain, which was 450 million standard cubic metres on 7 January 2003. We have discussed those figures with industry, and it is generally supportive.
Alterations will need to meet one of the threshold tests in their own right, either by an expected increase to the working capacity or an expected increase to the maximum flow rate of the facilities by the relevant threshold amount. The tests will ensure that a range of capacity projects can be considered by the IPC in order to make certain that the market as a whole can provide both endurance and deliverability benefits.
Although we already have some underground gas storage, more is needed. In the face of declining North sea production of gas, the UK will increasingly rely on having the infrastructure to store gas close to demand so that peaks in the system can be met. Large gas storage projects benefit the UK because they can store more gas and therefore contribute to the endurance of supply. That is a well-established practice in countries that do not have an indigenous source of gas to ensure a reliable supply during periods of high demand, such as winter. Smaller storage capacity projects are important because of their potential to deliver to the market more quickly as they may be located closer to demand. I commend the amendments to the Committee.
Mrs. Lait: I must apologise because we have come to the techie bit of the Bill. If I do not understand it, I am sure that the Minister will take great delight in ensuring that I do by the end of my remarks. I apologise if I sound less than expert.
The Minister, quite rightly, set the range of the Government amendments in context. I would be grateful if he answered a number of points, either as we go through or in general because many of them bring up the same issues. A key element that I am most interested in is the functioning of the IPC. As we go through each point, perhaps the Minister could give an estimate of how many proposals he expects the IPC to have to deal with. I know that the answer to that could be, “As long as a piece of string, depending on changes in technology.” I accept that, but on the basis of current technology and what is known at the moment, it would be useful to have some indication of the number of proposals that he expects the IPC to consider. He said that the changes under this group of amendments would bring forward a range of proposals. Approximately how many will that be?
I am also concerned about the development of better regulation, a cause that the Government maintain that they are committed to. I apologise for returning to an issue that I have raised before, but it is to this group of amendments that it is most apposite. There have been many complaints that in any planning application for an infrastructure project, the applicant has to ask for a range of different consents. That has happened because as technology has developed over the years, separate legislation has been created to encourage the industry, such as the Electricity Act 1989 and the Gas Act 1995. God help me, I can even remember the historical Pipelines Act 1962 being passed. The Department of Trade and Industry and successive Departments have, in essence, been responsible for the planning.
Under the amendments, the Government are moving quite rightly towards legislating for all those national-infrastructure-sized projects to come under a single regime, and we support that. I am interested, however, in why the Government have not taken the opportunity at the same time to repeal the legislation as it affects national infrastructure projects because we will potentially have parallel consent regimes. Questions could be raised about the capacity of a scheme and whether it is a national infrastructure project or not. I can see potential challenges in that area. Still having the legislation in place will allow people to challenge which consent regime a development should be operating under. For the benefit of better regulation, why have the Government not taken this opportunity to move the remaining powers that the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has under the various Town and Country Planning Acts, as these industries are now mature?
10.45 am
Parallel regimes for national infrastructure and smaller projects could lead to challenges, delays, confusion and expense, which the Government do not want. If they are committed to better regulation, as they maintain, I suggest that they amend the Bill to abolish the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform’s control over planning under the current regime, and move it to the appropriate Department.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I thank the hon. Lady for her questions.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government listed the Bill’s impact assessment estimates of the number of applications over the next 10 years, calculated for each year and broken down by sector, which gives an indication of what we expect to come forward in due course.
Mrs. Lait: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but my point is that many of the amendments specify criteria that were not in the Bill as drafted. I am asking not just for the list in the regulatory impact assessment, which was drawn up before the amendments were tabled, but for details of any expansion of the numbers because of the widening of the proposals.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I take note of the points made by the hon. Lady and will deal with them as we go through the Bill. We have provided a list, which shows where we expect to be.
Clauses 27 and 29 and the Government amendments specify the different consent regimes that will be disapplied, but only in respect of nationally significant infrastructure projects and within the context of the devolution settlements. We will discuss the matter under part 4 of the Bill.
We are retaining existing regimes in some areas because they are needed for infrastructure projects that are not nationally significant and would be appropriate to be applied by the relevant Administration or devolved Administration. The Bill clearly sets out the projects that are over the thresholds required for the new regime, as the hon. Lady will see when we come to the subsequent Government amendments and to parts 3 and 4 of the Bill.
Amendment agreed to.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I beg to move amendment No. 97, in clause 13, page 7, line 9, at end insert—
‘(ca) the construction or alteration of an LNG facility;
(cb) the construction or alteration of a gas reception facility;’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 155, 156 and 159.
Government new clause 1—LNG facilities.
Government new clause 2—Gas reception facilities .
Jim Fitzpatrick: The amendments bring applications for liquefied natural gas and gas reception facilities within the remit of the IPC when they are in England. Thresholds for the liquefied natural gas facilities that are to be governed by the IPC are set at the levels that I have already outlined for gas storage facilities—that is, that the expected working capacity is at least 43 million standard cubic metres or the expected maximum flow rate is at least 4.5 million standard cubic metres per day. LNG facilities could meet either one of those thresholds; however, gas reception facilities do not store gas, so only the maximum flow rate threshold would apply to determine when development consent for that type of facility will be decided by the IPC.
When a proposed alteration to liquefied natural gas and gas reception facilities meets the applicable threshold test in its own right, that alteration will require development consent from the commission, which means that proposals to improve existing infrastructure projects significantly will also fall under the new regime.
I have already explained why the Government believe that decisions on gas supplies should be taken at national level. I commend the amendments to the Committee.
Amendment agreed to.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I beg to move amendment No. 98, in clause 13, page 7, line 11, leave out
‘the construction of a highway’
and insert ‘highway-related development’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 87, in clause 18, page 9, leave out line 43.
Clause 18 stand part.
Government new clause 7—Highways.
Jim Fitzpatrick: We hope that the new clause will replace clause 18, which sets out the highways thresholds. It provides a fuller definition of what types of highway development would fall within the remit of the IPC to determine. It is designed to ensure that the new regime captures the construction, improvement or alteration of the country’s strategic road network—the network run by the Highways Agency and for which the Secretary of State for Transport is the highway authority. Government amendment No. 98 is consequential to that change.
I shall explain why these projects are so nationally significant and it is so vital that the thresholds capture them. In doing so, I hope also to address amendment No. 87, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe, which would delete trunk roads from clause 18. I hope that in explaining what we are doing with clause 18, I will convince him of the importance of including trunk roads within the scope of the new regime and so persuade him not to press his amendment to a vote.
The network consists of the main national network of motorways and major roads in England which link our cities, areas of population, ports and airports. Most motorways and some A roads are strategic roads, also referred to as trunk roads. The proposal will maintain the current level of national decision making, but with the IPC carrying out the role instead of Ministers. Those roads are essential to the economy and economic prosperity of the country. They allow people and goods to move around the country quickly and efficiently, and it is essential that they are kept in good condition to contribute to the safety, efficiency and comfort of our journeys, reduce vehicle wear and tear, and minimise costs to the taxpayer.
It is certainly true that some of the projects that we might carry out on this network are small, but the ability of road links and junctions to deal with traffic flow can impose constraints across the entire length of major roads and across the network as a whole. It is worth noting in this context that one of the key conclusions of the Eddington study was that investment targeted on pinch points and bottlenecks in the strategic road network could deliver some of the highest returns for growth. As such, it might be misleading to equate the physical size of a project with its potential impact on the network and its potential national significance. A single junction improvement can deliver significant benefits across a wider area of the network.
I believe that hon. Members will agree that works on our strategic road network need to be planned and considered holistically at national level. I therefore commend amendment No. 98 and new clause 7 to the Committee.
Mrs. Lait: I am grateful to the Minister for explaining what he is trying to do. Does he recall the evidence by the chairman of the Local Government Association and his concern, which we share, about the sheer number of national infrastructure plans that may go forward to the IPC because of the definition of trunk roads? I do not for a moment condemn anyone to slow roads. I use the A21, which is known affectionately as the snail trail. It has been known as that for a long time. I would be happy to have it speeded up, but I am equally conscious that many road proposals are exceedingly contentious and would remain so even under a national policy statement.
Any road will be contentious. The national policy statement on roads will be contentious. It will take an enormous length of time, and pre-application inquiries and pre-inquiry hearings could reduce some of the time taken to develop those road schemes. I cannot understand why the definition of a trunk road is drawn so widely. If it does clog up the IPC, as one suspects it might, the argument for speed disappears.
I apologise if the Minister has explained why footpaths are included. I understand that there is a valid reason for it, but most people have looked at that measure with a degree of scepticism and horror. It would be appreciated if he could explain that in more detail.
May I also ask the Minister about the implications for cross-border roads, because the measure refers specifically to England? Thinking of Scotland in particular, the M6 leads into the M74. If they do not link up and miss by a yard or a metre, we have a small problem. What proposals are there to ensure that the Scottish body politic, in all its variety, is properly consulted to ensure that any cross-border roads that are regarded as trunk roads or motorways can progress more speedily? I should be grateful for answers to those questions.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Following on from hon. Lady’s comments, two issues still concern me. I recognise that the Government are trying to be helpful in filing down to some extent those roads that will be dealt with by the new IPC process and those that will go through the existing planning process. My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the discussions to be held with the LGA about that. It would help to know the scope of those negotiations and when we might hear their results.
As the hon. Lady said, one of the issues that emerged from our hearings was the view of the LGA. It thought that the applications to be dealt with by the IPC should be in single figures. The difference between its understanding of what the figures might be and the Minister’s understanding are probably almost totally down to the inclusion of trunk roads in that process. Has my hon. Friend any idea of the percentage of applications that the IPC will handle in a year which will fall under the definition set out in new clause 7?
Finally, there are proposals to improve, expand and develop trunk roads where the impact is limited to a particular area. Where the impact is pretty substantial, it can affect the rest of the transport arrangements for that area. The new integrated transport authority for the area and the local council may have major concerns about how those proposals link to other transport proposals, regeneration schemes and so on in the area, although the proposals may have a very limited impact in terms of national consequences for the road network between our towns and cities. Where there was a proposal to improve a trunk road which had just local consequences, would that still have to go through the IPC, or could it be dealt with by the existing planning processes?
11 am
Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): I support what the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend said. The LGA made a very good point when it said:
“Groups of councils working together would also be best placed to make decisions about the infrastructure needed to support and grow their economies—in keeping with the spirit of the Government’s sub-national review.”
How does the Minister feel that this matter dovetails with those concerns? Coming from Newbury, perhaps I know better than anyone how local roads have to fit in with roads of national strategic importance. There is much concern in local government about the potential loss of control when local roads connect with important national strategic routes.
Mr. Jones: I want to echo my hon. Friends’ points. In particular, I want to raise the question of cross-border roads. Government new clause 7 relates entirely to highways in England. Cross-border issues, cross-border public services and cross-border roads are matters of significant interest in my part of the world. The current improvement of the link between the A5117 and the M56 has engaged politicians on both sides of the border for many years. The concern is that while the proposals aim to streamline and speed up the process of consents, there is silence on cross-border routes. Will the Minister explain what regime will apply for important cross-border routes and new road schemes, particularly in Wales?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I will respond to the questions raised by Opposition Members collectively because they are similar. There are also some similarities with my hon. Friend’s points.
We are not giving the IPC the ability to make decisions on local authority trunk roads, only on those roads for which the Secretary of State is the highway authority. We have worked out the case loads and they are outlined in the impact assessment. We will resource the IPC appropriately and have no reason to deviate from the case estimates.
On cross-border roads, roads and rail are devolved matters in Scotland and that will continue. As with other similar matters, we will consult carefully with the devolved Administrations to ensure that motorways join up at the right places, as described by the hon. Lady.
Mr. Jones: It seems that the streamlining process proposed by the Bill will not apply to cross-border routes. Is that correct?
Jim Fitzpatrick: It is fair to say that in a number of areas where there are cross-border elements, we are not deviating from the devolution settlement. In areas where responsibility has been devolved, that will continue. We are not confusing the situation, but maintaining that it will continue to stand as it does at the moment.
Mrs. Lait: That begs the question of whether the devolved Administrations have the same speed of decision making as the IPC will have.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Obviously we will be in dialogue with the devolved Administrations. Things do not go on in Westminster, Cardiff or Edinburgh that are not acknowledged. Discussions will take place and arrangements will be made to ensure that we work as effectively and creatively as possible. In general terms, the devolution settlement has worked well. It is our contention that by ensuring that we do not deviate from it, or tamper with it, it will continue to work well.
On local authority trunk roads, it is our expectation that half the applications will be under the single commissioner route because of their nature and size. That takes me on to cycle tracks and footpaths, which were raised by the hon. Lady. I did not mention those in my initial remarks, but we had an informal discussion about them the last time the Committee met, after business had closed. I understand her concerns and questions about how that might look like a strange addition for the IPC. However, there are instances where cycle tracks and footpaths are closely connected to strategic road network developments and are part of the current consent regime under which decisions are taken by the Secretary of State. Those consents are mostly used in connection with a wider development to a main carriageway. However, there are occasional examples in which they are used in isolation.
For instance, the Highways Agency has started work to provide a safe means of travel on the A38 between Dobwalls and Doublebois, which is pronounced “double boys.” It is a single carriageway with hedges and embankments close to the road. No work is being carried out on the carriageway itself, but a new segregated footpath and cycleway are being created. That will help to relieve congestion on the A38 and deliver general safety benefits to cyclists and other road users. It will also connect the industrial area of Doublebois to the town of Liskeard for pedestrians and cyclists. For the purposes of establishing the IPC now, we should ensure that the consent regime is not fragmented.
In respect of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe, and of the impact of amendments on a number of cases and the discussions with the Local Government Association, the Government amendments would clarify the drafting to ensure that we capture the appropriate procedures planned for in the impact assessment. In that instance, there is no change to the numbers estimated within the assessment.
In keeping with the White Paper commitment, as my hon. Friend said and I mentioned in my introductory remarks to the original amendments in clause 13, the Department for Transport is investigating the potential to devolve consent powers, under the 1980 Highways Act, to local authorities. He asked when that will be consulted on. It will be part of the sub-national review consultation, which is due out in mid-February. We will have to legislate as a result of that, in due course, but those discussions will start shortly. We will flag our intention to engage in those matters to the LGA, which is clearly keen, as we heard from its evidence last week.
In conclusion and for the sake of clarification, the 25 schemes are those currently decided by the Secretary of State, not local authorities. Many of them are, however, likely to link up with local authority roads.
Amendment agreed to.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I beg to move amendment No. 99, in clause 13, page 7, line 12, leave out ‘extension’ and insert ‘alteration’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 125, 153 and 154
Jim Fitzpatrick: Amendments Nos. 99 and 125 change the airports threshold to ensure that it is wide enough to capture any type of airport development that creates additional capacity, either as a new build or as an alteration to an existing site, by at least 10 million passengers per year, or 10,000 air transport movements per year in relation to freight.
Amendments Nos. 153 and 154 are drafting amendments needed as a consequence of amendment No. 125, which is an important change in response to the consultation on the planning White Paper. It will ensure that the new regime captures all those airport projects that are likely to have nationally significant benefits.
Hon. Members will have noted that the threshold for passenger transport has been raised from 5 million, as given in the planning White Paper. That reflects the responses to the White Paper, which indicated that the proposed threshold of 5 million was inadequate. The new threshold of 10 million passengers per year captures the additional airport capacity supported by the air transport White Paper. The new freight thresholds reflect the differences in types of airport development.
Given the differences in sizes and types of airports, and their scope for future development, we believe that those thresholds set a much clearer policy on the types of airport development that constitute a nationally significant infrastructure project.
Mrs. Lait: I welcome the changes, because they were ones that we advocated on Second Reading to take account of air freight, and sensible points on them were made by the British Chambers of Commerce and the CBI. Will the Minister give us an idea of the size of an airport that deals with 5 million passengers and that element of freight, as I am completely non-technical on that matter? Are we talking about an airport the size of Manchester or Luton—we cannot talk about Scottish airports because that is a matter entirely for Scotland? Understanding what size of airport we are talking about would give us some grasp of the issue.
One thing that is interesting—I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments on it—is that Government amendment No. 125 defines an alteration in subsection 19(5)(a) as “a runway”, which is understandable, but in paragraph (b) it is defined as “a building” and in paragraph (c) as
“a radar or radio mast, antenna, or other apparatus at the airport.”
I have great difficulty understanding why those are regarded as nationally significant if they are not already in the planning regime. Also, “a building” is a possible alteration. That might be a new freight or passenger terminal, but could be a hut for the security men. Can we have a bit of clarification on that?
I am sure that the Minister has at his fingertips the number of expected applications, but will there be any increase in the number of airports that have to apply under the change of definition? I am conscious that one of the longest and best runways in the country is sited at what used to be RAF Manston and know that there is some thought that the facilities there could be extended into a more effective airport. Do the Minister and the Department have in mind the development of an airport there or anywhere else that would be regarded as potentially coming within those criteria?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am happy to supply the information that the hon. Lady requests, certainly with regard to her first two points. The Bill threshold infrastructure is infrastructure capable of providing services for air passenger transport services for at least 10 million passengers per year. To give her an idea of the scale, the terminal at London Luton was originally designed for 5 million passengers per year and in 2006 handled more than 9 million, as did Birmingham. Manchester handled about 22 million passengers per year, Heathrow handled 67 million, Gatwick handled 34 million and Stansted handled 24 million. I hope that that gives her an idea of air passenger numbers.
To give an idea of the scale of air transport movements for cargo aircraft, that would represent roughly a 50 per cent. increase in cargo transport at East Midlands airport, which is the No. 1 UK cargo airport, or roughly a doubling of the cargo traffic at Stansted, which is key for the London area. That demonstrates that we are talking about substantial increases. With regard to the list and the impact assessment, we are confident that we have accurately assessed what we expect to come forward in the next 10 years. For aviation, it says that there will be one airport every 10 years, and one would imagine that if the Heathrow consultation were to get approval and go through the appropriate planning regime, that would be one airport that might well be within those figures.
Mrs. Lait: I am grateful to the Minister for that elucidation. I am being rather selfish and wonder whether Biggin Hill, which does quite a bit of freight air transport movement, could ever come within the freight transport bounds. I suspect that the answer is probably no, but my constituents would be delighted to hear from the Minister.
11.15 am
Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Lady tempts me to engage in crystal-ball gazing by answering her question. No one is in a position to say never, but the figures that I gave should reassure her constituents that we are talking about a huge increase compared with what goes through Biggin Hill currently. It is significant even for airports within the present configuration, whether they are for passengers or freight.
In respect of antennae on buildings, what matters is how much extra capacity the change allows over the threshold. Those elements may have an impact on the capacity threshold. Sometimes small changes allow very large increases in capacity, and in respect of radar and antennae there might be command and control facilities. It is appropriate to include them because of the impact they may have in due course.
Amendment agreed to.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I beg to move amendment No. 100, in clause 13, page 7, line 13, leave out ‘extension’ and insert ‘alteration’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendment No. 126.
Amendment No. 79, in clause 20, page 10, line 23, leave out ‘or extended’.
Government amendment No. 128.
Amendment No. 80, in clause 20, page 10, line 25, at end insert—
‘(1A) The extension of harbour facilities is within section 13(1)(g) only if the harbour facilities will (when extended) be capable of handling the embarkation or disembarkation of at least the relevant quantity of material per year in addition to their existing capacity.’.
Amendment No. 81, in clause 20, page 10, line 27, leave out ‘500,000’ and insert ‘250,000’.
Amendment No. 82, in clause 20, page 10, line 28, leave out ‘250,000’ and insert ‘150,000’.
Government amendment No. 129.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Amendments Nos. 100, 126 and 128, and amendment No. 127 in another group, will ensure that the IPC can consider significant alterations to a harbour as long as they increase a harbour’s capacity by the thresholds set out in clause 20. With similar amendments to other clauses in part 3, they will make the terminology used consistent with the rest of the Bill. It also applies to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East, which we may discuss later.
In respect of amendment No. 129, after careful consideration of the responses to consultation, the Government felt that although the threshold we set is appropriate there is a case for including an additional split threshold, given the types of development that are proposed for harbours. The thresholds we set for those developments are based on the potential impact that a port facility of that size could have on the national rail and road infrastructure, as well as its importance to the national economy.
However, hon. Members will be aware that port developments are often mixed-mode developments consisting of extensions or upgrades to facilities for different types of cargo. We therefore need to ensure that applications for development consent that seek to increase a port’s ability to handle container, ro-ro and other cargo ships fall to the IPC to determine where together they are nationally significant.
The amendment introduces a formula that specifies that if the proposed increases in capacity divided by the relevant threshold and then added together equal one or more, the proposed development is nationally significant. For example, a proposed development that would create a port capable of handling 350 TEUs—20-foot equivalent units—from container ships, 200,000 units from ro-ro ships and 4.5 million tonnes from other cargo ships, would clearly be a significant project but would not fall to the commission to determine without the amendment.
Most of the recent major applications have been for container ships—for example, that of London Gateway for 3.5 million TEU, Felixstowe South for 1.65 million, Bathside for 1.5 million and Teesport for 1.5 million are all well above the 500,000 TEU threshold. Other significant harbour developments, such as Bristol, are also expected to be above that threshold. To give some idea of context, 500,000 TEU equates to about 300,000 heavy goods vehicle movements per annum in and out. In relation to ro-ro ships, 250,000 units equates to roughly the same number of HGV movements. Given that a development of that scale almost anywhere is likely to raise significant issues of road and/or rail capacity, we believe that this is the right level at which a harbour project should be considered nationally significant. I therefore commend Government amendments Nos. 100 and 126 to 129 to the Committee.
Mrs. Lait: I am grateful to the Committee for allowing me to speak to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East. I do not know whether hon. Members know that he is celebrating the birth of a son and has taken paternity leave. I am sure that they would all wish to join me in sending him and his wife our congratulations, but it means that I have had to pick up yet another techie subject.
I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation on harbours. We had some very convincing evidence from the ports and harbours associations and Associated British Ports on the need for change in what is seen as a nationally significant project. I was glad to see that the Minister had picked up my hon. Friend’s amendment to remove the extension to ports. As we are all aware, there has not been, and is not expected to be, a huge rush of applications for new ports of national significance. However, we remain a trading nation. The Prime Minister has been in China and India trying to drum up further trade. Nobody would argue with that. We therefore need efficient and effective ports that can handle the most advanced types of ships and containers of whatever sort so that our trade can be dealt with efficiently and effectively.
The major concern that remains is the need to reduce the threshold sizes for facilities for container ships and ro-ro ships in new ports. The Government’s amendments do not really address that, whereas my hon. Friend’s amendments are designed to facilitate that reduction in threshold sizes. We must do what we can to facilitate our ports and harbours, and I would be grateful if the Minister could have another think about that and perhaps have a further discussion with the ports and harbours associations to see whether some sensible compromise could be worked out.
I return briefly to the Scottish issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West will tell me whether Wales is affected in the same way. I am very conscious of the fact that this measure applies only to England and Wales, yet we are talking about infrastructure ports that are adjacent to England and Wales and waters that are adjacent to England and Wales. While there are clear definitions for territorial waters, I am sure that the Minister will know that there has long been a huge dispute about whether Scotland’s oil is Scotland’s oil. Much of that argument depends on the definition of a territorial water.
While I am sure that the Minister will assure me that he has no intention of disturbing the devolution settlement, he may have noticed that there has been a change of Government in Edinburgh, and a Sewell motion may not perhaps be the solution to any discussions about reports on harbour facilities adjacent to Scotland. If he would clarify and reassure us that there will not be a major constitutional issue over the development of ports and harbours on the Scottish-English border, I, for one, would be very grateful.
Jim Fitzpatrick: On behalf of the whole Committee, I am grateful that the hon. Lady has shared the good news of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East with us. I cannot imagine that anyone in the room would not rather be supping champagne with him now than working in Committee. [Interruption.] Sorry, Mr. Illsley, I got that the wrong way around. Having said that, I am sure that the hon. Lady will convey to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East all our very best wishes.
By asking me whether I can assure her that there will not be any constitutional dispute between London and Edinburgh, the hon. Lady again tempts me to engage in crystal ball-gazing. I am grateful that she said that the Scottish oil question had not passed me by in the past 30 years, which demonstrates a generosity of spirit for which she is famous. I know that it is a bit of a mantra, or it certainly will appear to be by the end of parts 3 and 4, but we are not doing anything to unsettle the devolution arrangements as they apply at the moment. In this instance, that is why there is a distinction between England, Wales and Scotland.
The hon. Lady’s substantive point was about the evidence given by the UK Major Ports Group and Associated British Ports. Both are organisations for which we have high regard, and we listened carefully to what they had to say about the thresholds. However, the analysis and modelling done by the Department for Transport indicate that we have set the appropriate thresholds. Were such important organisations to come forward with more hard evidence, we would never refuse to listen to them. We are confident, however, that the assessments that we have made and the thresholds that we have set are appropriate, so I would not want to give the hon. Lady false hope that we are likely to change them. I have discussed the matter with officials outside the Committee to ensure that we have double-checked our figures. We are confident that they are absolutely accurate.
Mrs. Lait: While I am sure that the officials are very confident of their figures, I wonder whether the two organisations have agreed those figures?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I think that it was clear from their evidence that they were suggesting a different figure. They did not, however, furnish evidence, other than that their judgment and assessment was that their figure would be better. I understand that, given that they represent the industry. The industry would want to see as many ports as possible come within the scope of the IPC, because it agrees that it will be a better arrangement and will make life simpler. Equally, there is a balance to strike. Much of the previous discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe and the Local Government Association concerned the fact that we do not want unnecessarily to take responsibility for planning decisions away from local authorities where it is appropriate for them to have it.
Under later clauses in the Bill, there are powers to come back to the matter and make alterations in future when times have changed and different factors apply. At this point in time, however, we are comfortable with the thresholds that we have set. In respect of the discussions with both the UK Major Ports Group and Associated British Ports, we do not dispute the figures. The figures are accurate, so it is a judgment call.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the amendments tabled in the name of the Member for Rochford and Southend, East, but I hope that with the explanation that I have been able to furnish, she would feel able to withdraw them on his behalf. Otherwise I would have to ask my hon. Friends to oppose the amendments.
The Chairman: For the benefit of the Committee, those amendments are available only for debate. They have not been moved. The amendment under discussion is Government amendment No. 100.
Amendment agreed to.
11.30 am
Jim Fitzpatrick: I beg to move amendment No. 101, in clause 13, page 7, line 15, after ‘construction’ insert ‘or alteration’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 131 and 132.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The amendment will ensure that the IPC can consider significant alterations to a rail freight interchange as long as the land in which it is situated is increased by at least 60 hectares. Along with amendments to other clauses in part 3, it will make the terminology used consistent with the rest of the Bill.
Mrs. Lait: The amendment seems very sensible and the scale of the land is sensible. This is possibly repetitious, but the only comment that I have to make concerns whether any cross-border impact will result. There could be issues due to the frequency of trains for a new or expanded interchange or the use of tracks by trains from Scotland. It does not take much imagination to see why I am asking the question.
Jim Fitzpatrick: We do not anticipate that that is likely because of the size of the rail interchange that would have to be constructed before it falls within the scope of the IPC. Again, the devolution settlement is not affected. Were there to be a cross-border development, there would have to be discussions between the appropriate authorities. However, the amendments are relatively straightforward, given the size of the developments.
Amendment agreed to.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I beg to move amendment No. 102, in clause 13, page 7, line 16, leave out ‘extension’ and insert ‘alteration’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 134 to 136.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The amendments clarify that an alteration to an existing dam or reservoir, where it meets the specified thresholds, will constitute a nationally significant project under the Bill. Along with amendments to other clauses in part 3, this will make the terminology used consistent with the rest of the Bill.
Mrs. Lait: I have two simple questions. First, does this change envisage any increase in the number of dams that will potentially be created? Secondly—dare I say it—given the amount of rain that falls on the borders, what will the impact be on the Scottish devolution settlement?
Jim Fitzpatrick: In the mind of the Scottish National party, there is a dispute over Scottish oil. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy is not here to answer on behalf of the nationalists. I am sorry, but I am not going to get into a dispute about whose rain it is. I can advise the hon. Lady that we do not anticipate any increase in the number of dams.
Mr. Benyon: This question is very much in the line of my previous one concerning highways. I am aware of the delays in getting major dam and reservoir projects under way. There is one to the north of my constituency in Oxfordshire that has taken years and years to get under way. I will give the Minister a parallel problem. A well-known offshore wind farm down the Thames estuary was given consent under the Electricity Act 1989, but was delayed for many years by the local authority not giving permission for a sub-station. What will happen under the Bill if a major reservoir project is given the go-ahead, but local authorities delay the project through an application to reroute roads or footpaths or other matters that have been raised? How will the Bill speed up the process while also involving local people, without holding back infrastructure projects as has been the case in the past?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman raises the issue at the heart of the Bill. As he has outlined, sometimes problems occur with projects that are regarded as essential in the national interest. We heard a number of examples in the evidence sessions two weeks ago, when several witnesses gave evidence of problems in their sector of the industry.
As we discussed earlier, the list of consents in clauses 27 and 29, which could cause the delays to which the hon. Gentleman referred, will be disapplied in response to nationally significant infrastructure projects. The outline consultation arrangements ably articulated by my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government are a genuine improvement for the local communities and the proposed time frame will ensure that matters are dealt with more expeditiously. We are confident that the consultation, the applications and the disapplications of the various consent regimes will deal with exactly the kinds of problems raised by the hon. Gentleman.
Mrs. Lait: The Minister talked about dealing with the applications expeditiously, which leads me to point out that analysis of the effect of flood risk on local populations surrounding a dam should be made available to insurers, which is not the case at present. Will the Minister insist that that information will be made available under the new procedures for such an application?
Jim Fitzpatrick: If you will forgive me, Mr. Illsley, the hon. Lady’s question has caught me unawares, as I have no insight into the requirements or the procedures that apply in respect of insurance policies and dams. If she will allow me to do so, I will take note of her question and come back to her at an appropriate time in Committee.
Amendment agreed to.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I beg to move amendment No. 103, in clause 13, page 7, line 18, after ‘construction’ insert ‘or alteration’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 140.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The amendments clarify that an alteration to a waste water treatment plant would constitute a nationally significant project as long as it is expected to increase the plant’s capacity by a population equivalent of 150,000. With similar amendments to other clauses in part 3, it will make the terminology used consistent with the rest of the Bill.
Mrs. Lait: I will not detain the Committee, but waste water is highly controversial. If the plants are to be regarded as infrastructure projects, will waste water treatment proposals be required to comply with European legislation?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I can assure the hon. Lady that if the European legislation applies now it will also apply then.
Amendment agreed to.
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 161, in clause 13, page 7, line 19, leave out paragraph (m).
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 104, 141 and 142.
Clause 26 stand part.
Dan Rogerson: I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. Illsley, and hope that our deliberations are not adding to any discomfort that your cold may be causing you.
I speak in favour of amendment No. 161, which focuses on the inclusion of hazardous waste facilities in the Bill. We could have this debate on many other types of nationally significant infrastructure projects, which are included, but this one is especially significant given the types of hazardous waste that we could be discussing.
I note that the hon. Member for Copeland, who has taken a long interest in the issues of radioactive waste and the future of the nuclear industry, is in his place. Clearly, members of the public watching our deliberations will have those sorts of facilities in mind, as the provisions refer to deep storage, for example, which tends to imply that sort of development.
I understand that the Government have said publicly—the Minister may correct me—that they would be interested in exploring the sort of approach taken in other countries whereby communities volunteer, if that is the right phrase, to explore the idea of a hazardous waste facility in their area, particularly in relation to radioactive waste. That approach allows the community to debate what potential benefits might come to them as part of the investment in the local economy and facilities.
However, by taking such a decision away and handing it over to the IPC, our process will be different and will give far less scope for the local community, represented by its local authority, to consider the impact of the facility on the area, ways in which that impact could be lessened and other benefits that might be offered to the local community for taking that on.
In part 7 we will discuss provisions that will be included when development consent is granted, including the possibility of causing a developer to fund other developments in a local area consequent on that development, and I am sure that we will explore that later. However, were that process to be in the hands of a local authority when considering an application, it strikes me that the local authority would very much have the needs of that community and the history of the local situation at heart and would therefore be better placed to argue for such benefits than the IPC.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree with me that a local community would be much more likely to want to help the delivery of the Government’s agenda with regard to identifying a site for nuclear waste, for instance, if it felt that it was central to that process instead of the decision being taken away and handed to the commission?
Dan Rogerson: My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. If such a process were to take place, the hope would be, as the Government have discussed, that there would be a genuine engagement with that community about what might be on offer and what the benefits might be. He is absolutely right to say that the fact that the IPC is considering the proposal might arouse a healthy dose of suspicion, so that is worth consideration.
I also note that the other amendments in the group seek to expand the definition of hazardous waste facilities, and also look at thresholds in relation to future development. Therefore, if permission has been granted for a facility of a particular size, there are provisions here for it to be expanded. Again, that would take all the cards away from the hands of the local community because, once something has been provided for and constructed in an area, provisions in the Bill would allow it to be extended considerably. Local communities will be particularly concerned about that type of facility being handled as part of that process, so I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about the potential conflict between a sort of voluntary approach for local communities to come forward and the provisions of the Bill.
Mrs. Lait: I hope that the Minister will have enough of an opportunity to explain what the amendments mean, as a number of us are having difficulty grasping it because they appear to be so wide. On the one hand we are talking about nuclear waste facilities and on the other, about the transport of soil from a contaminated area, such as the Olympic site, which would easily fall within the terms of the proposals as I understand them. It appears to include everything in between. If the Government could clarify whether they truly mean everything from spoiled earth to nuclear waste, it would be very helpful. I suspect that we will return to that because it is worrying.
11.45 am
The Environmental Services Association has said that, owing to requirements for changes in how we deal with hazardous waste, there will be thousands of applications in future years because we will no longer have landfill. To take just one small exercise, I point out that East Sussex is nearly through the system in getting full planning permission for an incinerator at Newhaven, from which the town will get electricity. It has taken some 10 years, because it took eight years to get the waste management plan through the system; that is for dealing with waste in just one county. If it takes eight years to get a local county waste management plan through, I can just imagine how long it will take to get a national waste management plan, and it has taken two years to get the planning permission just for the county. That is dealing with 236,000 tonnes of waste, which comes well within the definition, as I understand it, of a national infrastructure project. I cannot believe that the Government truly wish the IPC to deal with the equivalent of one county’s waste for every planning application, so I hope very much that there will be thorough clarification of what the Government mean by “hazardous waste” here.
We also need, dare I say, to talk about the Scottish question. I notice from a piece in Planning Daily that the Scottish Government have come up with proposals for six nuclear waste stores. Whether they expect those to be deep facility waste stores is not entirely clear, but we could well find that, if they can get their six waste facility stores, there could be an agreement that Sellafield and deep waste storage may not be the solution to England’s problems. There is a Scottish element that we need to address clearly on this matter. If the definition of hazardous waste could be clarified, many of us would be reassured, and we may not have to return to it.
Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): I, too, would like to discuss issues broadly relating to the definition of hazardous waste. The hon. Member for North Cornwall made some interesting and persuasive arguments on behalf of the Liberal Democrats and I would not wish to take too much issue with them.
I begin by declaring an interest with regard to my constituency as Member for Copeland, which contains Sellafield. I was biting my tongue in the sitting the other day when the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon was talking about the constituency.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): I thought that the hon. Gentleman might have been.
Mr. Reed: I was in the Parliamentary Private Secretary chair at the time. I caution all members of the Committee and everyone in the country against assuming that my constituency, let alone Sellafield, will be the final disposal site for high-level radioactive waste in this country. In addition to that interest, I declare that I am a former employee of Nirex and, more importantly, that I worked very hard alongside the Foreign Secretary to abolish that organisation. Other interests with regard to the nuclear industry number 17,000——namely, the jobs that rely upon it in west Cumbria.
Ministers will be aware that the Government have made progress on radioactive waste management matters over the past three years, particularly on the disposal of higher activity radioactive wastes, under the aegis of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management—CoRWM for short. CoRWM recently submitted a series of 15 recommendations to the Government about the process of taking forward radioactive waste and management safely. In their response, the Government said:
“the UK should look to develop partnership arrangements, linked to appropriate involvement and benefit packages, with local authorities/communities as a means of securing facility siting.”
More importantly, the Government said:
“The circumstances surrounding the geological disposal of higher activity radioactive wastes are unique.”
We should bear that in mind.
I would like the Minister to address a very specific question, but not necessarily immediately. I do not assume that he has a crystal ball. Does the definition of “hazardous waste” include radioactive waste? Do the Government believe that CoRWM’s recommendations are in any way contravened by the Bill? Does he believe that the concept of volunteerism, which is the very essence and basis of a satisfactory resolution to radioactive waste management issues, is compromised by the Bill? Has CoRWM been consulted about the Bill? Will the Minister give me and other interested Members assurances that the principle of voluntarism is in no way weakened by the provisions of the Bill, with regard to finding a policy solution to radioactive waste management?
Jim Fitzpatrick: As well as responding to the concerns of hon. Members in respect of the amendment and of clause 26 standing part of the Bill, I wish to speak to Government amendments Nos. 104, 141 and 142.
On the inclusion of hazardous waste facilities in the Bill, let me reassure the hon. Member for North Cornwall and other colleagues that we intend that the commission will deal with hazardous waste facilities that are nationally significant and serve the national need only. To illustrate that, there are currently only six hazardous waste landfills and one deep storage facility in the UK that exceed the 100,000 tonnes per annum threshold. I hope that most hon. Members will recognise such major facilities serve a national need and warrant consideration at national rather than local level. Similarly, there are only two commercially operated high temperature incinerators in the UK, both of which exceed the 30,000 tonne per annum threshold. Both serve a national need and I suggest that any similar treatment plant would also do so. We have no intention of taking decision-making powers away from local authorities, except in the most significant projects, where there is a clear case for national decision making.
Tom Brake: Will the Minister confirm whether nuclear storage facilities, to which we are all referring, will automatically fall into the category that the commission will deal with?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I will come to that issue when I deal with the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me. I hope that will cover the question.
The sort of hazardous waste projects that the Bill will capture are of a scale and complexity that will almost inevitably have national benefits or impacts that go far beyond the immediate impact on local communities. As such, it would not have been unusual for such projects to be called in for decision by the Secretary of State in the past. In addition, as the Minister for Local Government described in our debates on parts 1 and 2 of the Bill and as we have mentioned today, under the new system there will be strengthened consultation requirements. Those apply at the policy development stage in relation to national policy statements and at the project development stage. That will be done before an application is submitted to the IPC and at its examination. It is also worth mentioning that because hazardous waste has the potential to cause greater harm than other types of waste, its management is subject to strict controls, which will apply to any projects approved by the IPC.
Mrs. Lait: I am grateful for the Minister’s assurances. My question is undoubtedly down to my lack of scientific understanding, but in clause 26(3)(b), the capacity of the facility must be
“more than 30,000 tonnes per year.”
I have cited an incinerator that is taking 200,000 tonnes per year for one county. I therefore have serious problems with what is meant in this clause. If we could have some clarification in due course, it would be very helpful.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I shall try to come back to that. I will first deal with the points that were raised in the course of the debate on the amendment. The point that I was trying to make is that the management of such facilities will be subject to strict controls, which will apply to any projects approved by the IPC.
Government amendments Nos. 104, 141 and 142 will ensure that the IPC can consider significant alterations to a hazardous waste facility as long as it increases its capacity by the thresholds set out in clause 25. With similar amendments to other clauses in part 3, the measures will make the terminology consistent throughout the Bill.
My hon. Friend made a number of points. As set out in the planning White Paper, the Government have been consulting on proposals relating to the storage of higher activity radioactive wastes. The consultation closed in November, as he said. The Government have since published a summary of responses in which we have committed to publishing a White Paper in the first half of the year that will set out the way forward for the implementation of geological disposal, including of higher activity radioactive waste. Such facilities are not included in clause 26. If we eventually decide that radioactive waste should be dealt with by the IPC, we would have to bring forward a statutory instrument to have it included. That would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, thus ensuring parliamentary debate and a decision from both Houses.
The Government remain committed to exploring a policy of voluntarism and partnership—my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for North Cornwall made this point—as recommended by CoRWM in the development of any such facility. The final point raised by my hon. Friend was the question of consultation with CoRWM. As he knows and as he outlined, the committee was reconstituted only in October, and we have not yet had an opportunity to consult it. However, I can assure him that we will consult the committee in due course.
My hon. Friend and several colleagues asked about the definition of hazardous waste and whether such facilities deal with nuclear waste. For the purposes of statutory regulation, the Secretary of State has the power to make regulations that specify the substances that are to be subject to controls. That provision is currently made by the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 1992 S.I. 656, as amended by the Planning (Control of Major-Accident Hazards) Regulations 1999 S.I. 981. Hazardous waste can arise from a wide range of materials, from chemical residues from industrial processes to everyday items such as televisions and car batteries. I assure the Committee that the types of facilities we are discussing do not deal with radioactive waste. Radioactive waste, as defined in section 18(4) of the Radioactive Substances Act 1960, is excluded from the controls exercised in relation to hazardous substances under the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Act 1990, and transposed into the development consent regime that will be operated by the commission. That is because such waste is controlled under other legislation.
Mrs. Lait: I am usually grateful, but I am completely mystified. Does what the Minister said mean that the Bill deals only with nuclear waste?
Jim Fitzpatrick: No. It means the reverse.
Mrs. Lait: That is exactly how I read it, but I now get a different impression—I am even more confused than I was to start with. Perhaps, in due course, we could have a clear explanation of exactly what the measure will mean, rather than the citing of many complex pieces of legislation. Frankly, I find the 30,000 tonnes limit very worrying.
Jim Fitzpatrick: These facilities are not included in clause 26. If we eventually made a decision that radioactive waste should be dealt with by the IPC, we would have to bring in a statutory instrument containing the measure. That would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, thus ensuring parliamentary debate and a decision from both Houses.
The hon. Lady also asked about transporting waste. Disposal of contaminated soils will be covered by the measure. Transport will still be covered by the Environment Agency, not the IPC. She asked about removing decision making on hazardous waste from local authorities. Decisions on the largest hazardous waste facilities only will be transferred to the IPC. They will provide vital facilities for the safe disposal of a wide range of materials, not only industrial items, but everyday items such as TVs, car batteries and fridges, as I said. The IPC alone will grant development consent. Other regulators, such as the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive, will ensure that they comply with strict controls to protect the environment and human health.
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The hon. Member for North Cornwall suggested that local authorities were better placed to reflect community views and engage with them, a point that I covered in my reference to the assurances in parts 1 and 2 of the Bill on the pre-consultation arrangements, the consultation over national policy statements and the opportunity to get involved when an application comes forward.
The hon. Lady raised a question about Kent’s 200,000 tonnes. Those deal only with hazardous waste facilities, rather than general waste, which will serve a much wider community than a single county. In summary, I urge the hon. Member for North Cornwall to withdraw his amendment. If he is not prepared to do so, I will ask my hon. Friends to vote against it.
Dan Rogerson: I am grateful to the Minister and understand that we now have on the record the fact that the provisions do not cover radioactive waste, which I am sure will be reassuring. With regard to the hon. Member for Copeland suggesting that people should not necessarily assume that his constituency will be the likely location for such a facility, that is precisely what concerns the rest of the country. Many people will, no doubt, be reassured by the Minister’s comments and on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: No. 104, in clause 13, page 7, line 19, after ‘construction’ insert ‘or alteration’.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]
Mr. Betts: I beg to move amendment No. 89, in clause 13, page 7, line 21, leave out subsections (3) to (5).
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 105 to 108, 110, 127 and 145 to 147.
Mr. Betts: One of the more interesting features of our discussions on the definition of nationally significant infrastructure projects is that we have spent an awfully long time being precise about the definitions of certain projects and about what might or might not come within the definition. There has been a lot of detailed debate on trying to understand precisely what the Government intend to include. It is almost as though the whole of that debate is swept away by subsections (3),(4) and (5) of clause 13, which basically state that whatever we have already discussed and put into the Bill can be changed or added to if the Government so decide in the future.
If I have misunderstood the precise intention of those subsections, I am more than happy to be corrected by the Minister. However, it seems that it is almost not worth while being so precise when going through clauses 14 to 26 and the particular definitions of what projects may or may not be included if, at some stage in the future, much more general definitions can simply be added in. In some ways, that can override those that have Ministers acting upon them because it states that the Secretary of State may do so by order.
We know that orders can be subject to parliamentary procedure, but the amount of discussion that those orders have is obviously far less than can be given in Committee stage and there is no ability to amend them, so it is a wide power. I have moved the amendment in the hope that the Minister can convince me, although hon. Members opposite might not be so generous in their approach to matters.
Mrs. Lait: We have been very good so far.
Mr. Betts: But on this occasion I do not know whether I can anticipate such generosity continuing.
Why do the Government need such wide powers? Will any new orders to add any further categories and types of project have to be within the fairly broad definitions of subsections (5)(a) to (e)? Is there no possibility by order to add any types of infrastructure project that do not fall within those categories or to add a new paragraph (f), which would add another generality of category to those in subsection (5)? We have spent a lot of time discussing the details of what is included, but there is almost an open door for Ministers to push through anything that they want to add, without the sort of scrutiny that we are trying to give the various aspects of projects that will be caught by the Bill.
Mrs. Lait: I support the hon. Gentleman entirely on this. We, too, tabled amendments because we are concerned about the potential for an even wider reference to the IPC with the inclusion of the words in the Bill. As far as possible, we want to ensure that there is no mission creep. Our discussion on nuclear waste illustrates the difficulty. While I applaud the thought that the Secretary of State will retain final decision-making powers over nuclear power, it seems slightly illogical for that to happen when every decision on major infrastructure projects that cause great controversy is theoretically meant to go through the IPC because it will be quicker. The logic of that position escapes me unless it is an entirely political decision, which rather puts into context some of the arguments about the Secretary of State’s or Ministers’ quasi-judicial role in planning.
We support the deletion of these subsections. With their inclusion, will we see an instant change, if not in this House perhaps in another House, to the proposals that we are expecting in the marine Bill? We are debating the Energy Bill, which has an impact. We have debated the Climate Change Bill and we are expecting a marine Bill. They all potentially affect nationally significant infrastructure projects, yet no cross-reference is made to them. We can immediately see rafts of amendments being made elsewhere to deal with this. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us and we can at least get it on the record that the Government have no intention of widening the criteria beyond energy, transport, water, waste water or waste.
Dan Rogerson: This is a sensible discussion for us to be having. We must look at how the Bill is viewed by two opposing schools of thought. One is that vital things must be done for the national economy to keep the country ticking over, and that the provisions in the Bill will allow that to happen. The other way of viewing the Bill is from the local community’s point of view, which is that, perhaps in line with a policy or a technology that may become outdated, they have to have something unpleasant imposed upon them. With that latter school of thought in mind, it seems sensible that we try to restrict the possibility of the provisions being extended much more widely than they are already. Therefore, the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe and the discussion that it has provoked are very useful, and I support him in raising those concerns with the Minister.
Mr. Jones: I echo the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham. Without wishing to extend the debate, I would like some information from the Minister as to the provisions of subsection (5), which limits the exercise of the power conferred by subsection (3) to projects in England in the fields set out beneath. It appears that not all the fields referred to in subsection (5) are presently the subject of devolution to the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government. Will the Minister explain, therefore, why it is proposed that the power conferred by subsection (3) should be confined to England and not extend to Wales in those areas where competence is not already devolved?
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Following the earlier debate, the Minister said clearly that “hazardous waste facility” does not include nuclear waste. Does the reference to waste in clause 13(5)(e) include nuclear waste? According to my reading of subsection (3), it would not be possible to lay an order in order to introduce the category of nuclear waste.
Jim Fitzpatrick: As well as responding to the concerns raised by hon. Members in relation to amendment No. 89 to clause 13, I also want to speak to Government amendments Nos. 105 to 108, 127, and 145 to 147. I agree that it is a sensible discussion to be having, and that it has been raised by a number of hon. Members.
Let me begin by responding to the concerns raised in relation to amending or adding to the types of project that constitute a nationally significant project. The rationale of hon. Members for removing that power is that any change should be made by further primary legislation, so that Parliament would have a say in whether to accept any changes in additions to the list in clause 13(1). The Government believe that that is unnecessary. We have already provided that the power is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. That will ensure parliamentary debate and approval in both Houses for any change to that list, but also takes care to sufficiently limit the power to projects that relate only to energy, transport, water, waste and waste water.
In addition, in response to the hon. Member for Clwyd, West, to avoid disturbing the devolution settlement, we will specify that new types of project may be added only if they are in England, or, as I will now set out for the Government, amendments in this group set in offshore areas.
Mr. Jones: The Minister mentions not disturbing the devolution settlement, but surely that settlement would not be disturbed if those competences had not already been devolved to the Welsh Assembly?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I have tried to respond by saying that the devolution settlement will not be challenged. If the matters are devolved then that will maintain it, if they are not, obviously, they are included within the Bill.
12.15 pm
The Government amendments ensure that the list of categories in subsection (1) can be amended and the power to direct that an application be considered by the IPC in clause 30 can be used in relation to offshore developments in waters adjacent to England and in a renewable energy zone, except those where Scottish Ministers have functions. That is necessary to give effect to these powers and to make the terminology in the Bill consistent.
Government amendment No. 110 is a minor amendment to ensure that the definition of a nationally significant generating station includes those offshore developments above the mean low-water mark, thus ensuring that they capture all offshore developments in waters adjacent to England or Wales up to the seaward limits of the territorial sea.
The hon. Member for Beckenham said at a previous sitting that we must have the flexibility to respond to new technological advances and she specifically mentioned a recent application for a
“carbon capture, coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth as a response to a Treasury competition to design carbon capture facilities”.—[Official Report, Planning Public Bill Committee, 17 January 2008; c. 280.]
I say to my hon. Friend and others that without the power in subsection (3), infrastructure contractors may not have the incentive or desire to build such innovative facilities given the risk that they might not fall within the remit of the IPC and the simplified consent regime without further primary legislation. That would set back our efforts to promote new clean technologies, which I use as an example to persuade the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.
Mrs. Lait: I am very grateful to the Minister, but I do not understand why the E.ON application at Kingsnorth does not come under subsection (1)(a) and is not required under subsection (5)(a) as it is the
“construction or extension of a generating station”.
The fact that it is using carbon capture is neither here nor there.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The question was whether new technology may or may not be included within the IPC’s remit. We suggest that it may be a disincentive to developers to build such innovative facilities if the risk is that it may not be included.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe asked about reassurance. The powers laid down in these clauses will be applied only when there is a good case. There will have to be consultation before changing the threshold; there will be parliamentary scrutiny because the statutory instrument will be subject to the affirmative procedure.
The hon. Lady asked whether the matter would go beyond energy, transport, water, waste water and waste. There is no power in the Bill to go beyond those categories as that would require primary legislation and we have no intention of expanding them. Clause 13(4) does not allow us to change the list in subsection (5).
The hon. Member for Clwyd, West asked about the devolution settlement, which I have covered.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy asked whether the reference to waste would allow the future inclusion of radioactive waste under clause 13(5). “Waste” potentially includes radioactive waste—[Interruption.]
Mrs. Lait: Sorry, but there is consternation on the Opposition side of the Committee. The Minister has just said that nuclear waste is included in the list, but under the previous group of amendments he said that we would need to table amendments to the Bill to include radioactive waste. Is nuclear waste just a small part of radioactive waste or is radioactive waste just a small part of nuclear waste? Is that difference in definition in previous Bills?
Jim Fitzpatrick: What we are saying is that the Bill as drafted does not cover radioactive waste. Were it to include radioactive waste, the clauses contain the power for the matter to be discussed with the House and for consultation to take place. That is in line with my assurance to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland, in respect of a previous amendment, that the matter could be dealt with by statutory instrument.
Mr. Jones: Is the Minister therefore saying that nuclear waste falls within the definition of “waste” but not within the definition of “hazardous waste”?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The answer to the question that was asked earlier about what is covered by “hazardous waste” is that it does not include nuclear waste in the clauses discussed. However, in response to the question raised by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy on whether it could be included in future, it could be if it is considered appropriate by the Secretary of State. However, that would be subject to consultation, there would have to be reason for it and it would have to be subject to the affirmative procedure in the House. In such an instance, matters could change.
I apologise for any confusion that I caused about carbon capture. In response to the hon. Lady, my understanding is that carbon capture technology is developing. It could be free-standing and might not be part of a generating definition. In such an instance, it would be separate and therefore would have to be dealt with as a new element. That is where the power in clause 13(3) might be applied.
Government amendment No. 127 will simply extend clause 20 so that the IPC will consider nationally significant harbour projects that are
“in waters adjacent to England or Wales up to the seaward limits of the territorial sea”.
I hope that I have given enough reassurance to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe, and I urge him to withdraw the amendment.
Given the Minister’s assurances that nothing can be proposed outside the scope of clause 13(5)(a) to (e), that there will be full consultation outside this House with the relevant groups, and that orders will be subject to the affirmative procedure in the House, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments made: No. 105, in clause 13, page 7, line 28, after ‘if’ insert ‘— (a)’.
No. 106, in clause 13, page 7, line 29, leave out ‘England in the field of—’ and insert
‘one or more of the fields specified in subsection (6), and
(b) the works are to be carried out wholly in one or more of the areas specified in subsection (7).
(6) The fields are—’.
No. 107, in clause 13, page 7, line 33, leave out ‘or’.
No. 108, in clause 13, page 7, line 34, at end add—
‘(7) The areas are—
(a) England;
(b) waters adjacent to England up to the seaward limits of the territorial sea;
(c) in the case of a project for the carrying out of works in the field of energy, a Renewable Energy Zone, except any part of a Renewable Energy Zone in relation to which the Scottish Ministers have functions.’.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]
Clause 13, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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