Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:02 pm on 15th July 2008.

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Photo of Lord Mogg Lord Mogg Crossbench 9:02 pm, 15th July 2008

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for her clear explanation of this complex, highly important Bill. I declare an interest as the chair of Ofgem, GB's energy regulator, although many of my remarks will be made on a personal basis.

The present planning regime is probably the single greatest barrier to the radical changes that we need to deliver to secure an affordable and diverse energy mix. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, referred to the challenge of trebling the supply of electricity from renewable sources by 2015, replacing some 30 to 35 gigawatts of capacity. These are huge challenges from many different perspectives, but it is difficult to see how we will meet them and the targets that the Prime Minister and others have agreed.

Although I am no expert on planning, I could answer the question of how well the regime performs with two words: too slowly. I have learnt a good deal about it already from many of your Lordships' contributions, but I want to ground the debate a little more in the challenges that we would face if we were in an energy debate.

The dwindling of gas supplies from the North Sea makes gas storage particularly important for our security of supply in the future. The potential certainly exists; the markets are working. Proposals are in either the pre-planning or the planning process that would, if delivered without further delays, double our storage capacity in the early years of the next decade. However, there are problems.

I wanted to avoid cataloguing those problems, but I shall follow my noble friend Lord Best by giving a few factual details. A planning application was made for a gas storage facility at Preesall in Lancashire that could have added 20 per cent to our current gas storage capacity. The application started in November 2003. By October 2007, after an appeal was rejected, it was still on its way. There are others. Canatxx wants to build an even larger storage facility in Fleetwood, Lancashire, but that has been blocked by a local planning authority, which will certainly delay it until 2012, if we assume that it continues.

It is not only gas storage that is affected by the planning regime; for renewable generation, which the Government strongly support, the outlook is bleak. Wind farms such as Scout Moor and Fullabrook, although they may be small, are two to three years delayed. For conventional gas-fired generation it is the same picture. Staythorpe C in Nottinghamshire is suffering a two-year delay. The liquefied natural gas terminals that we need to bring in energy from around the world have also suffered the same difficulties on Canvey Island. The transmission electricity grid, which is crucial for Scotland to bring energy to the English consumer, has had similar problems, with the north Gateshead grid upgrade. But I have troubled your Lordships enough with those rather technical issues.

The debate so far seems far removed from my concerns as an energy regulator about ensuring that in future we will have security of energy supply, about which I hear constantly from around this House. We cannot continue in this way. I have heard very few noble Lords objecting to the proposal to streamline or accelerate the planning processes in England and Wales. To that extent, the Bill is welcomed. However, the Bill itself is not enough because, unlike the Bill, energy does not confine itself to a couple of countries. Equally, the supply of renewable energy from Scotland is of major importance to the Scots and to the English consumers. We need a change of regime in Scotland. Although this does not relate to the Bill before us, it is essential that the Government have discussions with the Scottish Executive—if they have not already had them—to encourage an acceleration of their processes. There are no borders for energy.

I should draw noble Lords' attention to a further concern. The billions that we shall need to develop the infrastructure—the wind farms, the renewable energy arrangements and the new gas-fired and other arrangements—will need to involve private sector investment. It is no news to noble Lords that investors hate uncertainty, incoherence and delay.

Concerns have been expressed in terms of the acronym BANANA. It is a particularly useful acronym, which I should like to pass on; it stands for "build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything". It is unfair to dismiss the legitimacy of such concerns about the process, but, with the Infrastructure Planning Commission, perhaps the acronym should be changed. The Government's proposals should not have the response that Mrs Lait gave in the other place. She said that she will,

"review the IPC out of existence".—[Hansard, Commons, 25/6/08; col. 355.]

The IPC should bring objectivity, expertise and judgment, and I support its creation, principally to accelerate the process that will deliver satisfactory support.

The remainder of my comments would have concentrated on how legitimacy of control at the political level is to be achieved and on the process—I very much endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin—particularly with regard to national policy statements. Those seem to me fundamental. They give an opportunity for Parliament to review in detail the start of a process—and perhaps to agree with it—which will guide and control the final decision by the IPC. I also believe, from what I have read, that your Lordships can pursue and develop some of the improvements in the consultation processes that have been built into the Bill. It is clear that speed tends to restrict the ability to comment, but it is speed and my concern for energy that allows me to support the Bill and, in particular, to recognise that, if we are wrong, the review in a couple of years will be helpful.