EdF’s UK nuclear programme relies on its successful negotiation of the evolving planning regime. Antony Oliver talks to director of planning Richard Mayson.
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For any public or private client proposing to construct a major piece of infrastructure in the UK, obtaining planning consent remains one of the key risks and, potentially, one of the major costs.
Of course the recent introduction by the government of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) is expected to speed and simplify the assessment of large infrastructure projects. The intention is to curtail the kind of long-winded inquiries that dogged projects such as Heathrow Terminal 5 and Sizewell B.
But as EdF’s director of planning and external affairs Richard Mayson points out, this new process certainly does not reduce the amount of detailed preparation work, public consultation and careful negotiation needed to produce a scheme that satisfies both local and national sensitivities.
“The good thing about the new system is that there is a defined timescale,” he explains, rejecting the notion that the focus on the strategic national importance of projects such as nuclear power stations will undermine local interests.
“The onus is now on us to to ensure that we have defined our proposals properly and gone through them with the local authorities.”
“It feels to me like there is now more local involvement,” he says. “But the onus is now on us to ensure that we have defined our proposals properly and gone through them with the local authorities and to get our submission properly organised.”
Mayson completed the two-month long stage one consultation on EdF’s plans for Hinkley Point in January. This set out the full scope of the proposals with a range of options put forward for discussion at a series of eight local events around Somerset.
The scale of response − and the need to take time to properly consider the views of locals − has since prompted him to delay the second stage consultation from mid-March to late spring/ early summer.
The planning process for Sizewell is also now moving forward with the whole construction programme roughly one year behind that for HinkleyPoint with geological and ecological surveys now under way ahead of a stage one consultation at the end of the year.
At Hinkley Point, the second consultation in the summer will respond to the local views expressed in the first round and the wealth of ecological, environmental and geotechnical investigations carried out to date. In short, it will set out EdF’s preferred options ahead of a full application to the IPC, which will follow at the turn of the year.
“I’m reluctant to be pinned down on dates because it depends on how many comments we receive,” says Mayson, insisting that the decision to delay the second consultation has not affected the overall programme or ambition to start generating in 2017.
“We want to start the consultation before the summer break and finish after the summer,” he explains. “We are aiming for our [IPC] application submission for this coming winter. The IPC process is about a year − 14 weeks plus nine months − so we are looking for a decision in early 2012.”
This, of course, assumes that the IPC still exists at that point. The Conservatives have vowed to abolish the process should they win office after the forthcoming General Election, but Mayson remains upbeat about the implications of this possibility.
“We have a pretty positive view about what [the Conservatives] are saying in principle,” he says. “They recognise that the old planning inquiries just didn’t work and that there is a need to fix clear timescales for developers.
They also have a very clear view on the national policy statement process and ensuring that it is democratically robust to provide a good foundation.”
“We are aiming to get a decision on approval for these works at the end of this year and so give us a year’s head start on the IPC decision.”
As Mayson points out, given that the IPC only started accepting its first applications at the start of this month, its newness has itself brought challenges to the project, not least because of the huge amount of work required in advance of an application.
“We have always had in mind that the planning is one of our biggest risks. Clearly uncertainty is our biggest enemy,” he says.
“We always recognised that being one of the first into the IPC process was going to be a challenge. But I think we are in pretty good shape. We are optimistic that if we hit the dates, we will be able to generate power in 2017.”
But alongside the IPC application Mayson also has many other major regulatory milestones to reach before Hinkley Point can start generating including the nuclear site licence application and the Radioactive Substances Act application to the Environment Agency.
He also has to put together the so-called Funded Decommissioning Plan, which has to be submitted to government by the end of the year to show that the EdF business case makes provision for the cost of both dismantling the reactors at the end of their life and for dealing with the waste they produce along the way.
But the main focus is on getting the designs and engineering proposals worked out to support the main planning application for Hinkley Point.
The key thing for Mayson is the fact that the engineering and design for the planning application is not limited to the on-site works required to build the actual nuclear reactors and generators. It also includes everything needed for the power station construction and future operation off site.
Basically, this means examining and agreeing what road enhancements are required, the size and location of the campuses needed to house the 1,000-plus construction workers expected on site over the next decade and whether, say, park-and-ride schemes should be specified to support the development.
“We are working very closely with the local authorities to ensure that we match their local plans,” says Mayson, pointing out that these items are far from trivial. “Clearly we want to work with the local authorities to see if they want these facilities to be kept as a legacy benefit as [for example] affordable housing.”
And having completed the first consultation, Mayson is pleased to report that, while they received a vast number of comments from locals, there were relatively few specifically about the need for or concern over a new nuclear power station.
“People in general were saying that they support the power station,” he says. “But what we were also getting was understandable reaction to development near to their properties. We are now talking through the analysis from the stage one consultation to help them to feel comfortable about our proposals.”
Cannington − just south of the site − is likely to be the village most affected by increased construction and operational activity. Consequently, EdF is considering building a bypass to the east or the west of the village. But it is also looking carefully at the provision of park-and-ride facilities to minimise traffic demand.
Getting this design right, and producing the kind of detailed environmental, ecological, geological, traffic, demographic and socio-economic studies required to meet the needs of the IPC has involved a whole range of consultants to support EdF’s own Team New Build.
As the project moves on the numbers of individuals, consultants and contractors involved will continue to rise.
Invitations to tender go out next month for the advance earthworks and preparation contracts at Hinkley Point. This work will include fencing to secure the site, clearing of vegetation and terracing of the site to create working platforms ahead of the permanent work.
“People in general were saying that they support the power station but we’re talking through the analysis from the stage one consultation to help them to feel comfortable about our proposals.”
But before any of this work can start, Mayson has to apply for, and secure, planning permission from the local authority. This is one of the only aspects of planning that is outside the realms of the IPC and, of course, it has to include a full restitution plan should EdF be refused permission to construct the permanent works by the IPC.
“It’s all at our risk,” he points out. “We are aiming to get a decision on approval for these works at the end of this year and so give us a year’s head start on the IPC decision − and an early start means an early finish.”
It’s a similar sentiment for the permanent works, where Mayson and the EdF team will be working closely with the industry to ensure that wherever possible works can be carried out in parallel to compress the programme.
“We want to get contractors on board early,” he says, underlining the need to get ahead to stay on programme. “There are fantastic opportunities on site and particularly off site − the fact is that there is a large amount of associated work for companies that may not be in the tier one joint ventures.”
Richard Mayson: The Negotiator