Nuclear energy, microgeneration and planning permission

On Tuesday the government published a new planning bill, which sets time tables and speeds up the planning process for large infrastructure projects such as power stations, airports, pipelines and fuel storage depots.

On Wednesday Gordon Brown indicated that a decision on nuclear power would be made in January, and at the same time he announced that the government would not “retreat” from this decision. Obviously once his mind is made up nothing will change it.

Nuclear power plants are operated by British Energy. They have indicated four places where they will probably site the new nuclear power plants – Sizewell in Suffolk, Dungeness in Kent, Hinkley in Somerset and Bradwell in Essex.

When the new Planning Bill becomes law these new power plants will be significant infrastructure, and as such permission for their development will be governed by the new bill, as will the planning process of enquiries, and appeals; the rules envisaged under the new bill will shorten the time it takes to consider infrastructure projects and as a result in future environmentalists and objectors will no longer be able to delay these projects to the extent that they have in the past.

Gordon Brown said that we need to deal with the question of how we can meet the sustainable energy needs of our country for the future. Quite how the building of four nuclear energy power stations qualifies as a sustainable energy source is beyond me, but perhaps that is not what he meant. I wonder what he did mean.

When you build a power station of any description you have to realise that most of the electricity that you generate is lost in transmitting the power to where it is used. This means that it is better and more efficient to build power stations in the middle of areas where the power will be used – areas of concentrated human habitation and industrial areas.

The logical places for these power stations would be in the middle of London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, not in sparsely populated areas. The only reason for building these power stations away from areas of population is that there must be a significant health and safety risk. No doubt this point will be examined at length and in great detail by the new truncated planning process.

For some reason I doubt that Mr Brown will be happy locating a nuclear power plant in Westminster.

At the same time as truncating the time it takes to permit development of infrastructure the government seem to be reducing the formalities and thereby the cost when people want to make minor home extensions (which do not impact on their neighbours) and when they want to install small scale renewables, such as solar panels and wind turbines.

I have not yet found out the precise details of what is proposed but if people can fit unobstrusive solar panels on their roofs, provide the solar system complies with appropriate standards, I do not think that the objective of trying to generate small amounts of useful energy individually should be delayed or hindered by any planning process.

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