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05/06/2015

New tech must be recognised in infrastructure planning

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Tidal Lagoon

The UK needs National Policy Statements to help new technologies, such as Tidal Lagoons, find a way through the infrastructure planning process, says Alex Herbert

Alex Herbert, Tidal Lagoon PowerApplications for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) have been made under the Planning Act 2008 for five years. Only one of 36 determined has been refused, but many have fallen along the way, suggesting the best schemes make it through a vigorous process. It is not a well-trodden path, but opinions of the regime appear to be positive on all sides and I’d endorse that – with a few caveats.

The application for Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay (TLSB) was submitted in February 2014 and a decision is due by 10 June 2015. As a first-of-a-kind project, TLSB created challenges for everyone (from the public to regulators) in a regime that works better for established technologies with clear policy backing.

"Newer technologies will inevitably challenge the system again and should be welcomed"

Newer technologies will inevitably challenge the system again and should be welcomed. TLSB is also in Welsh waters, creating further challenges in a parallel marine licensing process, plus the absence of associated development and of support from the Planning Inspectorate’s Consents Service Unit or Defra’s Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit.

Improvements to the regime are underway, adding more consents and simplifying post-consent changes. But I hope to see more focus on the significant and unpredictable costs of the process. In addition to the application fee, developers are charged for inspectors’ time in considering the application and for costs associated with hearings. As applicants have no control over the number of inspectors appointed, nor the number of hearings held, examination costs can escalate.

And as public sector stakeholders don’t receive application fees, the cost of supporting their participation is typically borne by applicants through Planning Performance Agreements. The Inspectorate and UK government should be sympathetic if they wish to see more of these critical projects.

The UK has the world’s second-best tidal range resource and a unique chance to create a lagoon industry to harness this potential and export the expertise globally. Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd aims to develop a network of six lagoons around the UK coast generating 8 per cent of our electricity needs. We have no other clean, renewable resources available to us to generate predictable power at this scale, and which can be delivered quickly through a small number of strategically sited (and locally popular) projects. Consent for TLSB is the first step on that path. To support subsequent projects, we need National Policy Statements to recognise the emergence of tidal lagoons.

Alex Herbert is head of development for Tidal Lagoon Power

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