NIC begins planning policy review amid Hornsea 4 wind farm delay
The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has kick-started an investigation into why the consenting process for major projects, including wind farms, has become so lengthy.
The Commission confirmed late last week that it has been asked by the Government to review the current approach to National Policy Statements (NPSs) for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) such as energy generation facilities or transport projects.
NPSs detail how NSIPs and selected other developments are aligned with Government policies. They consider things such as safety, economic benefit, social benefit and climate change – both reducing emissions (mitigation) and building in resilience to future change (adaptation).
At present, NSPs are reviewed every five years. The NIC has been asked to consider whether this approach is still effective, given the amount of policy changes since the NSP regime was first introduced in 2008. Also taken into consideration if the fact that the Government has heard much evidence that the planning process has slowed in recent years, when it was, in fact, supposed to be streamlined.
The NIC will produce a report with recommendations for change, both short-term and longer-term, ahead of the Government’s publication of a new Action Plan on NSIPs later this year. The Commission expects to set out its report in Spring.
The news from the NIC comes shortly after the Planning Inspectorate announced a delay of more than four months before the Government takes a final decision on granting approval for the Hornsea 4 offshore wind farm. Hornsea 1 and 2 are already in operation and Hornsea 3 has been granted a Development Consent Order.
The Inspectorate said in a letter that it wanted to receive additional information from the developers, Ørsted, about its plans to protect nature around the 2.6GW Hornsea 4 project – particularly seabirds. It has also invited Natural England to provide its comments on this matter.
Not noted in the letter was the fact that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to restructure departments, changing where responsibility for energy and climate lies within Whitehall, would doubtless also present delays. Sunak moved on Tuesday 7 February to split the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). A new Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero is being set up.
RenewableUK, a trade body for the UK’s clean energy industries, has stated that the delay is “particularly disappointing” as it may undermine the UK’s target to host 50GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030.
“This decision clearly shows that Government needs to reform our cumbersome planning system urgently to ensure that renewable energy projects are not subject to needless delays,” said RenewableUK’s executive director of policy Ana Musat.
“Due to unclear guidance to planning authorities, no offshore wind project wind since 2017 has been recommended for approval by the Planning Inspectorate. All 6GW of these projects were delayed until the Secretary of State reviewed them to confirm approval. To meet our 50GW offshore wind target, the UK will need to install 4.5GW of offshore wind a year in the latter half of this decade. A reformed planning system is essential to ensure we can stay ahead in the global race to build vital new clean energy infrastructure”.
The Energy Transitions Commission recently published research concluding that the average timeline for an offshore wind project in the UK is 12 years. The Commission believes that this could be reduced to 5.5 years with interventions to streamline planning and permitting, without any backsliding on environmental and social standards.