Reflecting further on the Welsh Government’s recent report on the Development of National Significance (DNS) regime, I can’t resist probing the category recommendations made a little further. As I said in my previous post, when you compare the assumed 42-week determination DNS period with the average determination periods highlighted in the research, the evidence gathered suggests that energy generation (renewable and diesel) development definitely benefits from inclusion in the regime (in terms of timescales) and a number of other categories of development - open cast coal mining, commercial/retail/leisure and “new” settlements (assumed at 500+ units) - would almost certainly, even with the over-runs, benefit from inclusion in the DNS regime.
With the current boom in interest in energy storage (and OFGEM and BEIS’ current work to simplify the regulatory and planning regimes for these projects), it is good to see that the report recommends energy storage developments are taken out of the DNS regime.
Some of the report’s recommendations on projects to include in the regime don’t, in my view, take account of what the regime was designed to handle. Take, for example, Geological Disposal Facilities (GDF) for radioactive waste. A GDF (let’s assume there will be more than one in the UK, although this is unlikely) has been designated by Westminster as a nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) (as long as it is in England) falling within the DCO regime established by the Planning Act 2008. Within the next 12 months (hopefully), there will be a GDF NPS (National Policy Statement) (which again will only apply if it is in England). There is a reason a GDF is an NSIP - the DNS regime (and the Welsh planning policy framework) are not equipped to deal with a project of this scale or complexity.
Let’s not forget that DNS applications are determined in line with the adopted development plan - I can’t see any Welsh Local Planning Authorities including GDF policies in their Local Development Plans, meaning there will be a distinct lack of policy support (in Wales as the NPS only applies to GDFs in England) for an Inspector to hang their hat on. In my view, the development of a GDF should be regarded as an NSIP irrespective of whether it is in England or Wales, and should be determined in accordance with the emerging NPS. So, in this instance it is DCO all the way for me.
New settlements on the other hand, pose a more interesting question. The recent publication of the consultation responses to the National Development Framework, suggest something of a renaissance for new settlements is occurring in Wales (see my colleague Laura Harry’s blog), with support coming from the public and private sectors. Is there therefore a case for new settlements to be DNS? (For those of you that are interested, they can already be DNS’s if designated as such by the NDF, but this raises questions of local level policy support – and that’s an issue for another blog….).
I think it is perhaps too simplistic to simply recommend their inclusion on this research – especially as the research categorised anything over 500 units as a new settlement. I do think however, there is a case for fully fledged, standalone ‘new settlements’ (as opposed to urban extensions) of say 5000+ units to be included within the DNS regime, and it could cope (although I admit there may be some strain around the edges!). At this scale, the scheme can truly deliver a new mixed use, fully integrated, settlement (potentially incorporating smart city technologies) which would have a greater than local impact. Anything less than 5,000 (a figure which I’m not wedded to by the way) though, perhaps we leave it to the LPAs.
Let’s not forget that the Welsh Government is working to define a new regime for the consenting of energy generating stations of between 50 and 350MW. There is no indication as yet on whether it will be an entirely new regime or a “DNS+ regime”, but whatever it is, maybe it should be designed to deal with new settlements as well….
Source: Welsh Government Research
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Wales, Development Consent Order, Town Planning, New Settlements