The Bulldozer

As Plaid Wrecsam has noted, yesterday saw the first day of operation of the Infrastructure Planning Commission, a body set up to fast-track planning applications for large projects so as to save them being held up or halted by unwilling local authorities and public inquiries.

This is something that's been on the cards for some time. The IPC was the creation of the 2008 Planning Act, and it has been in existence since October last year ... but just not functional until now. As an indication of just how fast-track the process will be, the IPC will be under an obligation to accept or reject an application within 28 days. In other words it might well be possible for approval for a controversial scheme to be granted permission well before any lobby or protest group has an opportunity to set up a campaign.

The devil, as they say, is in the details ... for the IPC might well turn out to be just a rubber stamping body. Their remit will be to consider planning applications in so far as they relate to "National Policy Statements", so in fact the decisions that are taken in formulating those NPSs will be the most critical part of the equation.

The major policy area for immediate consideration is energy. But if anyone is thinking of mounting any opposition to large windfarms or nuclear power stations the sad fact is that you might as well forget it. It's already too late! The consultation was launched in November last year and closed just over a week ago on 22 February. I'm sure most of the public weren't aware of that ... and in fact Hugh Ellis, chief planner at the Town and Country Planning Association (the main body of planning professionals) went so far as to say:

"I can find no-one who is aware that we are about to launch the most important [energy] programme in the last 40 years"

For more on background on that story, read this in New Energy Focus, and follow the links on that page.


At this point it would be easy for me to repeat how much I am against nuclear energy and how much I am in favour of renewables. But that isn't really the point. The point is that decisions about planning need to be taken at the appropriate level. It is surely up to the people who are affected by any proposed development to have their say and make the decision.

In principle, the decision on a project that can produce a certain amount of energy needs to be decided both by those who are closest to the development—those who will see it, or potentially work at it—and those who would benefit from that energy. Thus a windfarm of say 30 turbines can probably be determined by the local authority, or neighbouring local authorities, affected because it will produce only a part of the electricity that the area needs. But a decision on a nuclear power station that produces more than enough energy for half of Wales should properly be considered at Assembly level, since the Assembly is the democratic body that represents Wales. What is most disturbing about the IPC is that the office that will determine any major project proposed for Wales is not even in Wales. Central government is imposing its will on everybody else with scant, if any, regard for democracy in Wales either at national or local authority level.


So is there any hope for a different outcome? The Tories have said they will abolish the IPC, as is reported in today's story in the Daily Post:

But Conservatives claim it takes power away from elected politicians and puts it in the hand of unelected officials. Under proposals released last week they are committed to abolishing it, although any applications already under way would be dealt with by transitional measures they plan to put in place.

A Welsh Conservative Party spokesman said: "Under our plans to scrap the Infrastructure Planning Commission, local authorities would be the principal reference for planning applications in their capacity as local planning authority. However, using National Policy Statements – which may be locationally-specific – the whole process for infrastructure will be significantly speeded up."

Daily Post, 2 March 2010

That sounds promising at first. But a moment's thought will be enough for anyone to see that this isn't quite what it promises to be. Firstly, the Tories will allow any current applications to continue, although with transitional procedures. But more importantly, the IPC is just the final part of a process that will effectively have been pre-determined through the National Policy Statements ... something that the Tories have confirmed they are going to keep. The Tories will no doubt come up with a local rubber-stamping body that is all but obliged to implement the NPSs which they, central government in Westminster, will have decided, not the people at the levels affected. So much for downward devolution.


So there is no real choice between Labour and the Tories on this issue. Whichever party gets to form a government, Westminster will still decide what's best for Wales ... not us in Wales.

The only fair solution is for decision making on energy projects greater than 50MW to be devolved to Wales. Perhaps we would decide to go ahead with nuclear power (much as that would disappoint me) or decide to put a much greater emphasis on renewables (much as that would please me) however the important thing is that we would be making these decisions by and for ourselves ... just as is already the case in Scotland.

Instead, we will still be stuck with some Secretary of State or Minister from Westminster bulldozing through an energy policy that is geared to suit England rather than Wales.

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