The revised draft National Policy Statements on energy - Energy and Climate Change Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Changes to the Planning Act 2008 and Parliamentary scrutiny

1.  We welcome the improvements that have been made to the Appraisals of Sustainability since the publication of the first draft NPSs, but we note the continuing dissatisfaction in some quarters. We recommend that to avoid charges of non-compliance in the future, the Government publish guidelines on how, in carrying out Appraisals of Sustainability for future NPSs, it intends to ensure fulfilment of the requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive. It should then consult separately on this statement of principles and practice. For the present, we consider that the Appraisals of Sustainability will pass muster. (Paragraph 28)

2.  We recognise that on this occasion a foreshortened period for scrutiny was acceptable, given that the draft Statements had been subject to full scrutiny by our predecessor Committee. However, we reassert the general expectation that the period of parliamentary scrutiny follows the public consultation period. (Paragraph 33)

3.  We welcome the ratification procedure set out in the Localism Bill for adding a formal stage of parliamentary ratification before a Statement can be finally designated. We note, however, that the proposal is for a form of modified negative resolution procedure. Consequently, there is no guarantee that the House will vote on each individual National Policy Statement, although it is always open to the government to ensure a vote, and, under the new procedures for backbench business a committee or an individual Member could request one. We are not persuaded that this entirely fulfils the Minister's assurances to us, though we can also see the possibility of cases where a full vote on a relatively minor revision seems excessive. We would expect the Backbench Business Committee to give a sympathetic hearing to any request for a debate and vote on an NPS in circumstances where the government of the day appeared to be trying to avoid one. (Paragraph 36)

4.  We believe that although early ratification of the energy NPSs has some advantages completing the process in advance of the decisions on electricity market reform, the passage of the Localism Bill and the determination of the new planning framework could fail to provide the coherence and certainty that are part of the fundamental rationale for NPSs in the first place. (Paragraph 39)

5.  We recommend that the Government makes sufficient time for a full day's debate on the revised draft NPSs, centred on EN-1 (with perhaps a four to six hour debate), but with a business motion providing time for an individual debate or at least an individual decision on each of the technology-specific NPSs. We urge the Chair to consider, where practicable, the scope for consideration of reasoned amendments on each Statement where these constitute a detailed rather than principled ground for rejection. We further recommend strongly that there is provision in a business motion for a separate vote on each of the six energy NPSs. (Paragraph 45)

6.  We recommend that the Localism Bill should set out explicit criteria against which the Secretary of State may choose to exercise his or her discretion in deciding a planning application against the advice of the IPC or MIPU. This decision should rest with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. In addition, the Secretary of State should be required to publish his or her reasons for going against the advice of the IPC or MIPU. (Paragraph 50)

7.  We conclude that the potential hiatus between the designation of any NPSs and the transfer of decision-making powers away from the IPC provides a further reason why the ratification process should be timed to follow royal assent to the Localism Bill so that all future planning applications are decided by the same statutory authority. (Paragraph 51)

NPSs and the planning system

8.  The Government has set out on important, but potentially disruptive or even conflicting, reforms of the planning system in relative isolation from one another. We conclude that the National Planning Framework could provide strategic spatial direction to the National Policy Statements. The various changes to the planning system must be complementary. We therefore recommend that the development of the National Planning Framework and the National Infrastructure Plan, and the enactment of the Localism Bill, should be coordinated. The Localism Bill should not be enacted until the national planning framework and the national infrastructure plan are completed and active. (Paragraph 60)

9.  We recommend that the NPS on transmission networks should revert to the formula that the Holford Rules are the "basis of the approach" toward cables. We further recommend that in some areas the situating of cables underground is necessary to reduce the visual impacts of energy networks infrastructure. These areas should include, but not be limited to, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This should be qualified by recognition that particular economic or environmental circumstances could make the placing of cables underground impractical in certain areas. (Paragraph 66)

The need for new capacity and the climate change implications

10.  We conclude that there is a worrying lack of contingency arrangements should key technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, not prove viable. Without carbon capture and storage, the effort required to meet our energy security and climate change targets would be almost insurmountable. We recommend that section 4.7 of EN-1 should include clearer recognition that carbon capture and storage is economically and technically unproven and that it should lay out a contingency plan for decarbonising the economy without carbon capture and storage. (Paragraph 77)

11.  We welcome the Government's acceptance that the assessment of need for a project application should not be made in isolation from an awareness of projects already complete, underway or consented. However, we believe that this approach should be incorporated in the overarching National Policy Statement, EN-1, and not relegated to an assurance in the Government's response document. The IPC and MIPU should have a duty to provide the Secretary of State with the information necessary to make his decision on each application. During the transitional period in which the IPC is the decision-maker, it is important that it should also have regard to the flow of projects and capacity already consented. (Paragraph 83)

12.  We are concerned by the risk that the NPS need case may have a perverse impact on the development of new capacity, by encouraging too much new gas plant. We recognise the continuing importance of gas-fired generation in the UK but are worried that, as drafted, the NPSs could lead to a second "dash for gas". This would make it very difficult for the UK to meet its renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, especially if carbon capture and storage does not prove viable in the short term. To avoid this contingency, in deciding individual applications, the Secretary of State must take into account the volume and kind of capacity already consented or under construction. (Paragraph 84)

13.  We remain adamant that the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change that the electricity sector should be substantially decarbonised by 2030 should be set out in EN-1 as an explicit goal for consideration in planning applications. (Paragraph 85)

14.  Whilst we acknowledge the changes that the Government has made to the nuclear NPS, it must make clear that interim storage facilities for up to 110 years of radioactive waste will be necessary for new build nuclear plant. (Paragraph 94)

15.  We welcome the arrangements to set milestones for the work to identify a Geological Disposal Facility for the long-term storage of radioactive waste. We conclude that the Government should continue to report progress made by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority towards identifying a facility, including providing us with copies of the annual report to be published on milestones reached. (Paragraph 95)

16.  We conclude that whilst the NPSs could encourage long-term investment in essential energy infrastructure, investors may find the commercial risks of new technologies in particular too high. Consequently the level of investment in new energy infrastructure will not be sufficient to meet our energy security and environmental targets. Mechanisms within electricity market reform such as capacity payments and "contracts for difference" will be vital in ensuring there is adequate private sector investment in the UK's energy market. As part of our inquiry into electricity market reform we will call on the Government to set out how it will encourage the investment of at least £200billion over the next decade. (Paragraph 105)

17.  We recommend that the timing of the NPSs and other significant planning policy developments should be coordinated. In particular, the NPSs must be in harmony with the changes introduced in the National Planning Framework and in the Electricity Market Reform process. Ill-timing could create uncertainty rather than certainty for new energy infrastructure investment. To this end delaying ratification of the NPSs for a few months would allow them to be coordinated with the other significant planning reforms underway Furthermore, the ratification procedure needs to ensure that consent for the NPSs is real and detailed, not just a symbolic vote on a take it or leave it basis. (Paragraph 110)

18.  Under new arrangements, the Minister will be able to decide against the advice of the MIPC or the IPC. We recommend that the Government publishes criteria against which the Secretary of State may choose to exercise his or her discretion and the reasons for going against the advice of the IPC or MIPU in individual cases. This matters not just for this Parliament but for decades and even centuries to come, as there are very long-term consequences of decisions on energy policy taken now. It is vital that this issue is addressed or much of the anticipated gain of the NPS system may be squandered by the reintroduction of political uncertainty in a field where investment planning horizons are twenty or more years ahead. (Paragraph 111)

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