United Kingdom: Planning Act Infrastructure Categories Extended To Include Thames Tunnel
09 July 2012
Article by Angus Walker
Today's entry reports on the first general extension to categories of nationally significant infrastructure project.
After yesterday's entry on the Silvertown Tunnel, now it is the turn of the Thames Tunnel to become an official nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP), but by a different route. In fact the Thames Tunnel became an NSIP first, but the statutory instrument giving effect to the change has only just been published. You wait ages for a non-NSIP to become an NSIP and then two come along at once.
Rather than declare that that specific project should be treated as an NSIP as happened this week with the proposed Silvertown Tunnel in east London, this time the list of categories of project that are NSIPs has been extended in general, specifically aimed at the Thames Tunnel, but it will catch any other projects of that type above the size threshold.
Here is the statutory instrument that makes the amendment to the Planning Act, which came into force six days ago. This is the first change to the list of categories of NSIP - there have been many calls to raise or lower the thresholds, but no changes have actually been made until now. In fact, this change is not a raising or lowering of a threshold, but an extension to the description of the category together with its own threshold. The words 'or of infrastructure for the transfer or storage of waste water' have been added to the definition of a waste water NSIP, with a corresponding threshold, namely a capacity for the storage of waste water exceeding 350,000 cubic metres. That's a whole lot of, erm, waste water - 140 olympic swimming poolsful.
In fact the threshold is considerably lower than needed to catch the proposed Thames Tunnel supersewer, which is about five times that size - it was 'calibrated' by reference to the smaller Lee Tunnel, currently under construction to the east of the Thames Tunnel route.
The statutory instrument has an additional provision to allow any pre-application steps already taken by Thames Water (or the promoter of any project above the new threshold) to count towards its application if they would have counted had the project been an NSIP at that time. I think that Thames Water has therefore essentially carried out two of the three strands of pre-application consultation but still needs to do the general public consultation strand.
The process for enacting this statutory instrument was fairly lengthy, taking nearly a year. A draft was first published back in July 2011 for consultation, which closed in October. The government issued its response in January this year, and the draft SI was then laid before Parliament in February. After having debates on it in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons (since it is subject to the 'affirmative' procedure, for the technically-minded), it was finally 'made' a week ago.
Any other changes to NSIP thresholds are likely to follow the same process, so we will have plenty of notice of them. The only one where the government has undertaken to bring changes forward is that for railways - see this Hansard extract (at the bottom of column 112).
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