Energy minister Lord Hunt has raised the spectre of planning delays for power projects after revealing that Energy National Policy Statements would be unlikely to be “designated” until after the General Election.
Designated versions of each National Policy Statement (NPS) will be used by the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) to assess planning applications for major projects.
Draft statements are currently out for consultation.
Hunt told the Commons energy and climate change committee last week that there would be no parliamentary time to get statements approved before the General Election.
The energy and climate change committee is the only parliamentary scrutiny the government has given to the six energy statements.
“We know the whole process of developing National Policy Statements would be subject to challenges.”
These can only be “designated” or approved for use by the IPC after the committee has requested amendments and the government has responded. The committee also reserves the right to call for a full debate in the House of Commons.
Hunt told the committee that he would like to get the energy statements designated by the summer recess, but that a debate would introduce delays.
“If there will be a debate in the chamber, then I do not think there will be time before an election [to designate the statements]. I would like to do this by summer recess, but there is no guarantee,” he said.
Interim committee chairman Paddy Tipping agreed time was short.
“It is clear to me there are only a number of parliamentary weeks left. Were we to recommend a debate, and there is a strong possibility that we would, then we would be extremely unlikely to get one in the lifetime of the current parliament,” he said.
“If that is the case, then we are talking about a new parliament, and this may have a consequence on when designation may take place,” added Hunt.
The Conservatives have vowed to abolish the IPC and have said they will insist on a full parliamentary vote on each NPS. They have said the IPC would remain operational in the interim to avoid delaying projects (NCE 10 December 2009).
Hunt also told the committee that he was prepared for legal challenges.
“We know the whole process of developing National Policy Statements would be subject to challenges.
If people take proceedings, we will defend ourselves robustly,” he said.
He rejected calls to have the IPC monitor the carbon emissions of projects, as requested by green groups.
Hunt said primary regulation would be used to ensure new energy production meets government emission reduction targets.
“I would bring in new areas of policy [to ensure emissions targets are met] - that is government’s role,” he said.