Opponents of massive wind farms and nuclear power stations will have only four months in which to object under Government plans to fast-track energy projects through the planning system.
New rules unveiled by Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling yesterday will force local councils – and members of the public – to state their objections to proposed developments within a strict timetable of just 120 days.
Mr Darling is determined to cut the amount of time planners and planning inquiries take to deal with contentious schemes for large-scale wind farms, nuclear and electricity power stations by setting strict “timeframes” in which people can object.
However, the suggestion was greeted with anger by anti-wind farm campaigners in Northumberland who said it was an attempt to “steamroller” through plans for hundreds of turbines in the county. Geoff O’Connell, a parish councillor in Belford, questioned why, at a time when the Government was promoting devolution of power to local communities, ministers were dictating how long they had to make up their mind.
“I find it totally baffling that at a time when Tony Blair is announcing more decisions to be made from the bottom-up that we get this top-down directive.
“It’s absolutely dreadful. Obliging objectors to make all their points in just four months when the industry has had a long time to put together a long list of the pros of these developments is wrong.”
Under the current system, there is a “rough guideline” for councils to consider objections for large-scale energy projects within four months, however this is often overrun and rarely enforced.
But according to the new proposals, due to go out to consultation, the Government will set specific deadlines for authorities and members of the public to make their objections, with the maximum deadline for wind farms, nuclear and electricity power stations just 120 days.
Mr Darling argued the proposals were “common sense” with the average wind farm planning application taking 21 months to be approved. Even smaller wind farms were hit by considerable delays, according to the Government, with the average decision taking 10 months compared to a target of 13 weeks.
Streamlining the system, he argued, was therefore “common sense”, adding: “We need a significant amount of new investment to keep the lights on, and we want much of it to be low carbon. The country can’t wait for it. We need a system that allows objectors to have their say, but that is also effective.”
As well as setting strict timetables for council and public objections, the new rules also propose to give planning inspectors the power to set out a timetable for the inquiry at the start, to read out only a summary of evidence submitted, to be able to refuse site visits and force certain issues to be dealt with only by written evidence. The use of email will also be promoted.
By Zoe Hughes
Political Editor, The Journal
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