Memorandum submitted by WWF UK (PB 31)
WWF understands the need to reduce the length of the planning process for major and nationally significant pieces of infrastructure. Expensive, complex and time consuming processes serve neither the democratic process nor the country's interests. We particularly see the need for a single consent process to avoid multiple planning applications, and we also understand that National Policy Statements will allow policy decisions to be made once and for all and not repeated in every planning application.
Nonetheless, the Planning Bill is proposing major changes; WWF want to ensure that the needs of the environment are properly and fully considered, and that the concerns of the community can be fairly heard and taken account of in the decision making process. As the CBI and others have stressed in oral evidence, it will be counterproductive if the new process leads to a flood of legal challenges which could mean that the new system is slower than the old one.
We list below ways in which we think the Bill could be improved. Some of our points echo those that have already been made by others, and some have been formally tabled by committee members.
We are aware that some of our suggestions were considered in scrutiny on January 17th in particular; the fact that none of the tabled amendments were agreed does not, in our view, devalue them and we will continue to pursue them through the Parliamentary progress of the Bill.
Suggestions for improvement
1. National Policy Statements.
These will be innovative and powerful documents, and must be robustly formulated, scrutinised and agreed. We believe that the following suggestions would improve their status:
1.a They should be subject to Parliamentary approval (not just Secretary of State).
1.b They should all be subject to a formal Strategic Environmental Assessment.
1.c The idea of them being adopted retrospectively (clause11) does not allow for proper consultation, and we propose that they are either consulted on again de novo, or subjected to a test to prove that they have satisfied the Cabinet Code of Practice on Consultation.
2. Relationship to Climate Change Bill.
Climate change issues have been unanimously acknowledged by the Committee as the biggest challenge we face. While some proposals that will be considered by the IPC will have the potential to reduce the UK's carbon footprint, some - especially those concerned with transport infrastructure - could have a seriously adverse effect.
We therefore suggest that:
2.a Every proposal in front of the IPC should have to demonstrate its impact on the UK Carbon Budget.
2.b There should be a formal duty on Commissioners to have regard for sustainable development.
2.c The Climate Change Committee, proposed by the CC Bill, should be a statutory consultee of the IPC.
3. Relationship to Marine Bill.
Although the draft Marine Bill has yet to be published, it is expected that it will include a proposal for a Marine Management Organisation which will have marine planning as part of its remit. The Planning Bill currently proposes that planning for offshore wind farms over 100MW should be determined by the IPC. Ultimately this should be determined by the MMO in the interests of having a single coherent marine planning system.
We can propose no amendment on this since the question is hypothetical and will remain so until the Marine Bill is published and enacted. However, we feel that it is important enough to flag up now.
4. Right to be heard.
The IPC will be able to determine how it hears evidence - orally, in writing, adversarially, inquisitorially etc. There is a strong feeling that communities will be unable to make their voices heard, and this will result in a flood of legal challenges which will be, ultimately, counterproductive. The Committee has already heard suggestions that challenges could be forthcoming under the Aarhus Convention.
We therefore suggest that:
4.a The examining authority should allow individuals and communities the right to be heard and to cross examine the proposer. This cross examination and oral evidence should be should be appropriate and in proportion, with the safeguards currently set out in clause 85(8) of the Bill.