THE PLANNING INSPECTORATE (PINS) PLANNING PROCESS
The roles and responsibilities of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) were passed to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) on 1 April 2012. The transfer does not affect the way in which the application for a Development Consent Order has been assessed.
Because it is over 50MW, the North Blyth Biomass Project is considered a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) that requires development consent under the Planning Act 2008.
The planning application was submitted to the IPC on 15 March 2012. PINS were then the examining for the application which included input from statutory and non-statutory consultees, including the Local Planning Authority and the community.
Northumberland County Council is, therefore, an important stakeholder and RES continued to consult with them throughout the process. RES also carried out comprehensive consultation with the local community, the results of which can be seen in the Consultation Report.
- Following announcement of the project (which happened in May 2009), technical and environmental studies began, along with early discussions with the community and other stakeholders.
- A scoping report was produced and submitted to the IPC as well as to the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to determine which issues need to be addressed during the Environmental Impact Assessment. A Statement of Community Consultation (SOCC) was also submitted and published locally; this sets out how RES will consult with the local community and on what issues.
- A detailed Environmental Impact Assessment of the potential impacts and benefits of the project was carried out, along with other technical and engineering studies. The design was also refined in response to comments received during the consultation process.
- Once all project details were finalised and consultations complete, RES submitted a planning application to the IPC on 15 March 2012 along with the Environmental Statement and Consultation Report.
- The application was accepted by PINS for examination on 12 April 2012, and a period of consultation followed, during which the application was publicised and responses were sent direct to PINS. This consultation closed on 1 July 2012.
- The Preliminary Meeting (chaired by the Examining Authority from PINS) was held in Blyth Civic Centre on 2 August and signified the start of the 6 month examination period.
- During the examination period, the LPA prepared its own Local Impact Report.
- PINS examined the application which concluded on 2 February 2013 and now has 3 months to make a recommendation to the Secretary of State whether to grant consent.
- The Secretary of State then has a further 3 months in which to make a decision whether to grant the project a Development Consent Order.
National renewable energy policy:
The decision whether to grant planning consent or not will be made in the context of national policy on renewable energy, as set out in the National Policy Statement (NPS) for Renewable Energy. It states that 'Electricity generation from renewable sources of energy is an important element in the Government's transition to a low-carbon economy. There are ambitious renewable energy targets in place and a significant increase in generation from large-scale renewable energy infrastructure is necessary.'
While government policy is supportive of renewable energy and biomass power generation is a recognised form of renewable energy, the Planning Inspectorate also has to have regard to any local impact report submitted by the LPA, any relevant matters prescribed in regulations and any other matters which the Planning Inspectorate thinks are both important and relevant to the decision. It will consider whether the benefits of the project outweigh any local adverse impacts. The LPA (Northumberland County Council) will also have regard to national policy as set out in the NPS in drawing up its local impact report.