My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are also tourism opportunities, because we have not only the River Trent, but the canals and the beautiful Cannock Chase, which he referred to when talking about the views from Lichfield.
The Rugeley B power station is where roads, rail, power and technology all come together. To realise the site’s economic and regeneration opportunities, we need to develop it as quickly as possible if the plant is closed. However, before the site can be redeveloped, the plant needs to be decommissioned and demolished, the site needs to be decontaminated, and infrastructure improvements need to be made, including the creation of a new access road.
As I have said, the site presents opportunities for multiple uses, and I will take each one in turn. It is no secret that we have a housing shortage, and the Government are committed to building a million homes during this Parliament. Brownfield sites such as Rugeley B present a real opportunity to deliver some of those homes without building on green-belt land. Where Rugeley A power station used to be, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Michael Fabricant, there are many new homes. Building homes on part of the Rugeley B site would help to support the Government’s plans.
To address employment losses, the regeneration of the site will need to include significant commercial development to attract enterprise and create new jobs. In my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s Budget in March, new enterprise zones were announced in the midlands, including in Loughborough, Leicester and, as was raised in Prime Minister’s questions only today, at Brierley Hill in Dudley. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to support me in putting forward the case for creating a Rugeley enterprise zone.
As I mentioned, Rugeley was once at the centre of innovation in the power generation industry. I believe there is an opportunity for the site to be a new home of innovation. With the connectivity crossover of national grid and broadband infrastructure, there is an argument that the site could become home to data centres, which in turn could attract other businesses in the technology and innovation space.
The need to ensure that the site includes commercial development is important not only in creating jobs, but in filling in the gap in business rates that Cannock Chase District Council will face if the power station closes. The local council is set to lose £1 million in business rates, which represents 9% of its business rate income. Over time, this gap will be met by rates from the new Mill Green designer outlet village, which is due to be built in Cannock, and which is another good reason for people to visit Cannock Chase, but the short term looks really bleak for the council. The Labour-led council faced financial difficulties before the announcement about the power station, as it has a net deficit of £1.2 million. I am told that the power station’s closure could lead to the council cutting front-line services. Will my hon. Friend the Minister therefore consider supporting the request for transitional relief funding to help the council manage its short-term financial pressures?
Finally, there is the possibility of building a gas-fired power station on the site. The national grid infrastructure there means that it would be the ideal location. The development process for a new-build combined-cycle gas turbine includes obtaining a development consent order. Such an order is required when developments are categorised as nationally significant infrastructure projects. Engie, the owner of Rugeley B, has raised concerns with me about the length of time and costs associated with obtaining a DCO. It says that the timeframe is anywhere between 26 and 32 months. There are large up-front costs associated with the preparatory work required before an application can be submitted. If any information is missing from the application after it is submitted, the process stops and the applicant must begin the process from the start. The applicant does not have the option of providing further detail once the application is submitted. The ability to make minor design changes during the process is therefore limited. That can add to the timeline and costs of a new-build project and create delay in an application for a capacity contract.
We would all agree that the planning process must be robust and effective, but power station sites such as Rugeley B are brownfield sites where there would be no change of use from power generation. We need to make the process of applying for a DCO faster and more flexible for such sites. With my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield, I recently met the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and raised that issue. I am pleased that the Planning Inspectorate will hold a workshop for potential applicants before the end of June, with a view to explaining how they can use the pre-application process to ensure that applications are progressed as swiftly as possible once submitted. That said, will the Minister undertake a review of the DCO process to ensure that it is both robust and flexible, so that coal-fired power station sites can be speedily redeveloped into gas-fired power stations?