The House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee has published its report today on the proposed national policy statements (NPSs) for major energy infrastructure. The MPs have rightly delivered a ‘withering critique’ of the NPSs in their current form, and proposed many very sensible revisions.
The report contains one very significant disappointment, however. We are alarmed to see the Committee has recommended re-opening the idea of allowing a new nuclear power station at Dungeness. Ruling this out was one of the few clear recommendations in the draft NPSs we actually agreed with.
It would be virtually impossible to compensate for any loss to the rare shingle beach habitat at Dungeness, which is already under threat from plans to expand nearby Lydd Airport. It is quite simply the wrong place for a new power station.
In other respects the report’s recommendations, if followed, would make the energy NPSs much more acceptable. For example it says there are ways of bringing the spatial dimension back in for each NPS, so they “would provide valuable guidance and an incentive to bring applications forward in the most appropriate locations".
Linking all the NPSs together, they say, would be assisted by development of an ‘English national spatial strategy’. The Conservatives have promised to develop such a strategy if they win the election.
The Committee notes the 'lack of consideration of policy alternatives' within the environmental assessments for five out of the six NPSs. That's something we were strongly critical of. The report recommends Government should develop new guidance on how to do ‘appraisals of sustainability’ for NPSs - to ensure ‘consistency of approach’ and better assessment of cumulative environmental impacts.
The report also criticises the statements on the need for infrastructure of various kinds, particularly for conventional fossil fuel power stations. It goes as far as to suggest policy should ‘take a holistic view of the energy sector’ and that Government should consider introducing a ‘hierarchy of preferred generation technologies’.
Moreover, because of the ‘risk of locking the UK into a high carbon energy mix’, applicants should conduct a ‘full life cycle carbon assessment’ of their proposals. As a further safeguard against carbon lock-in, the Committee on Climate Change should be made a statutory consultee for relevant planning applications. So in all a very helpful report, but potentially bad news for one very special place – Dungeness.