New nuclear build in the UK would be rendered virtually impossible if the country’s planning laws remain unchanged. While Terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow Airport now has the dubious honour of having the longest and most expensive inquiry, this record was previously held by Sizewell B for around 15 years. The Central Electricity Generating Board applied to build Sizewell B in 1982 but following the inquiry from January 1983 to March 1985 – and a further 12 months for compilation of the inspector’s report – it was five years before construction could start. Although another tortuous inquiry into Hinkley Point C followed, with plans for Wylfa B and Sizewell C on the table, the UK has not ordered any further reactors since Sizewell B.

Now that the government is seriously considering new nuclear build (contingent upon the outcome of its nuclear consultation), it realises that the risks associated with the planning process need to be addressed if there is to be any chance of seeing a new nuclear plant being ordered. Among the measures being implemented is the planning white paper, Planning for a Sustainable Future, which was launched on 21 May, two days before the release of the energy white paper. The policy document sets out radical changes to the planning system to enable timely, efficient and predictable decisions on key national infrastructure. The government plans to introduce the necessary legislation as soon as possible with the aim of introducing a reformed system in 2009. The proposals aim to bring in a new system for dealing with major infrastructure decisions (transport, water, waste and energy) and call for: ministers to set a clear national case for important energy infrastructure; a streamlined and efficient decision making process which allows decisions to be taken by an independent body; and a new obligation on developers to consult before they submit applications.

Alongside the white paper the government also launched yet another consultation, which asks questions on a number of key proposals in the white paper. The deadline for responses is 17 August.

At the launch of the white paper and the associated consultation, the then trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling said: “We need to streamline the procedures so that people can have their say at the same time as reducing delays and uncertainties. Secure, clean energy supplies are vital. Currently major energy projects, including wind farms, can take many years going through the planning system, which is confusing and unpredictable for both industry and communities.”

Darling continued: “With a third of our power stations needing replacing by 2020 these new proposals will help industry make the investments that the country needs, and provide communities with clarity on how they can take part in the decision making process.”

Technology neutral

Since the policy paper covers a wide range of industries, it will be very difficult for nuclear industry opponents to object to the proposals as they apply to nuclear new build without also opposing, say, new wind farm developments. Speaking at Prospect union’s Electricity Supply Sector conference on 11 June, Paul Golby, chief executive of E.ON UK, emphasised this point. “Although planning in relation to our industry is often seen as shorthand for enabling the construction of new nuclear power stations, it is important to recognise planning impacts all energy technologies, not just nuclear,” he said.


Major energy projects can take many years going through the planning system, which is confusing and unpredictable

Planning is a “technology neutral issue,” he noted, pointing out that the London Array offshore wind farm has been delayed as a result of a decision by a local authority to refuse permission for a small onshore substation.

He added: “What we need is national energy policy that translates into regional and local planning statements, streamlining the process so that inquiries focus on the merits of specific projects and local concerns and not on national policy or need.”

Concluding that the proposals must be implemented by 2009, Golby said: “We need to get on with it! If we are not careful, the UK will still be debating the merits of the government’s proposals on planning when the lights start to flicker.”

Planning and the public

While the industry on the whole welcomes the proposals in the white paper, much still needs to be done to convince the public of the merits of new power plants, let alone nuclear ones. The Saint UK Index survey, carried out by The Saint Consulting Group at the beginning of this year, found that 83% of respondents want no more development in their local area. And while not topping the ‘Nimby Hate List’, power plants come a close second to landfill developments, with 79% of respondents against new power plants. (‘Nimby’ is an acronym for ‘not in my back yard’.)

Nick Keable, managing director of Saint Consulting UK said the results show that those engaged in development “need to understand public opinion and then react to it by changing the way they operate.”

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