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Draft Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN–1)

Volume 718: debated on Monday 29 March 2010

Motion to Resolve

Moved By

That this House calls on Her Majesty’s Government to amend the “Conclusion on need” section in Part 3.1 of the Draft Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN–1) so that the case for all forms of sustainable and low carbon energy is strengthened from “significant” to “being of critical importance” to delivering the United Kingdom’s energy policy goals of secure and affordable energy supplies and mitigating climate change. Considered in Grand Committee on 23 February.

My Lords, I understand that it is agreed between the usual channels that we should debate all five Motions—three in my name, one in the name of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell and the other in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—together. I have been asked more than once in the last few days how these Motions come to find themselves on the Order Paper this afternoon. I hope, therefore, that it might be appropriate if I take a few moments to explain how we are where we are.

The Motions arise under the Planning Act 2008, which established new processes for accelerating planning approval of “nationally significant infrastructure projects”. The Act set up the Infrastructure Planning Commission and established national policy statements. I take these in reverse order. The first purpose of the NPSs is to set out the Government’s policy, which they do at some length, and the second is to give the IPC detailed guidance on the handling of planning applications for major infrastructure projects that are put forward by developers. The 2008 Act defined “major projects” that fall within the scope of these NPSs; other projects, mostly minor, will be handled by the amended town and country planning system and will not go to the IPC. The role of the IPC is to examine the projects, conduct local inquiries, assess any adverse impacts and then reach a decision on whether the application should be approved.

The Motions today deal with national policy statements. The Act requires both public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny by both Houses—I emphasise both Houses. Some of the volumes have been amended, while others have not. It was originally said that this would be done by the House of Commons, for which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, apologised generously and profusely.

The two Houses have adopted different processes. In another place there are departmental Select Committees, so the six energy national policy statements have been the subject of detailed scrutiny by the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change. It heard evidence over many weeks; indeed, I sat in on many days to listen to what was going on. Its report—an interesting document—was published last week.

In this House we do not have departmental Select Committees, so an entirely different procedure had to be—well, “invented” is not too strong a word. It was to be based on debates in Grand Committee. We had three debates, which took place in the Moses Room on 23 February, 9 March and 11 March. The procedure also envisaged that there could be resolutions to amend the national policy statements, which could be debated on the Floor of the House. We had undertakings from the Leader of the House that time would be provided. As noble Lords will have seen, and as I have mentioned, there are five Motions tabled: the first three are in my name, while my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, have the other two.

I should perhaps mention one matter. The Government are obliged to consider all the issues raised, both in public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, before finally designating the national policy statements in their final form. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, indicated when he gave oral evidence to the Select Committee at the other end that he hoped that the designation would be complete by the Summer Recess—his people need a lot of time to examine all the representations—but he warned that it might have to be delayed until the autumn. My only point on that is that it will fall to the Government elected after the general election to handle those matters. That is the new system and I hope that that explains why we are here this afternoon.

The first Motion in my name deals with the definition of “need” for new investment. On page 14 of the draft overarching statement there is a paragraph that summarises the recommendations on need under the heading “Conclusion on need”. I shall read just two or three lines:

“Government has therefore concluded that there is a significant need”—

those words are significant—

“for new major energy infrastructure which will have to be met by projects coming through quickly given that developments such as nuclear power stations have very long lead in times”.

The Government’s lengthy analysis in the national policy statements demonstrates beyond doubt that, in order to ensure continued security of the UK’s energy supplies, there has to be a sustained, multibillion pound investment programme, most of which will fall to the industries, for investment in new electricity generation and networks, and in gas terminals, gas storage and pipelines. With more than a quarter of the country’s existing power generation needing to be replaced within the next 10 to 15 years, and with the UK expected to be dependent on imported gas for up to 80 per cent of its supply within a decade, the UK simply must have a diverse portfolio of extensive investment in all types of sustainable energies, technologies and networks up to 2050. We were hoping for a road map at the time of the Budget but I have not seen it yet. It may exist but I have not found it.

Many witnesses have argued that in these rather grim circumstances the word “significant” to describe the need is much too weak and must be strengthened. I shall cite just one authority for that—the United Kingdom Business Council for Sustainable Energy, a body formed in 2002 to support the fastest possible transition to a low-carbon economy consistent with maintaining secure and affordable energy supplies. I hope that it will be appropriate if I read what it said in written evidence to the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change in another place. Paragraphs 2.6 and 2.7 on page 339 of the evidence—it is a very substantial volume—say:

“Equally, NPSs must clearly spell out the urgent need case, both overall and for each technology/infrastructure. The suite of energy NPSs set out in general terms the need case for the different technologies. This is vital, but UKBCSE/Industry believes that, given the potential major concerns over security of supply, the NPSs need to be realistic about the scale of the need for each technology and the networks necessary to bring energy to market”.

Paragraph 2.7 reads:

“The need cases should therefore be strengthened from ‘significant’ to emphasising the critical importance of delivering investment in each technology, and should provide clarity over the weight that the IPC should give to the respective need cases”.

That is why in my Motion I am proposing that the words “being of critical importance” should be substituted for “significant”. This view was supported by a number of other witnesses to the Energy and Climate Change Committee but I do not think that I need to quote them.

The second Motion calls for the Government to amend the overarching national policy statement by spelling out their environmental targets to mitigate climate change. To achieve these targets, whether by 2025, which is the date on which they tended to concentrate in the statements, or by 2050, which I think is more realistic, we must have more low-carbon generation. Of course, much of that will be nuclear and wind power.

There is now a legally binding target to deliver an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. This will mean the almost complete decarbonisation of electricity generation. The date given in the national policy statement is 2025, but this is simply a milestone on the path towards the longer-term objectives. Yet nowhere in the six volumes are these environmental targets expressly spelt out. There is much anxiety that there will be pressure to go for more fossil fuel generation and that the low-carbon alternatives of renewables and nuclear might well be given a lower priority. If the Government’s specific, longer-term environmental commitments are spelt out in the NPSs, the IPC will be given a clear steer to give priority to these low-carbon applications.

I have been in communication with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, who apologises profusely that he is unable to be here today. He did, however, specifically ask me to point out that he is in full support of the first two Motions. I am most grateful for that.

The third Motion says that EN-6, the volume dealing with nuclear power, should be amended to include Dungeness as one of the sites for nuclear development, on the grounds that it is premature for the Government to exclude it from the list and effectively preclude any developer from making proposals relating to that site. There are currently two nuclear power stations there—Dungeness A is being decommissioned and Dungeness B has a very short life.

EN-6 is the only NPS to spell out a spatial policy for future investment in the new nuclear power stations. Ten sites are designated: eight are close to existing plants and two are new greenfield sites in Cumbria. The Government cannot possibly guarantee that all 10 sites will attract development applications. Even if they do, some may be rejected by the IPC following examination of local issues or for technical reasons. We need, therefore, as many designated sites as possible.

The reasons for excluding Dungeness are spelt out not in EN-6 but in another document—the consultation paper that was published at the same time as the six energy statements. The reasons are to be found in Annexe F of this consultation paper, summarised on page 71. Paragraph 6 says:

“Dungeness is both a unique coastal system and an internationally important shingle site. The area has a number of internationally designated sites including a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA) which are part of the Natura 2000 network. There is also a proposed Ramsar site”.

That final point is a reference to the potential loss of wetlands.

Elsewhere in this section of the report is a reference to the vegetated shingle beaches to the seaward side of Romney and Denge marshes. We aired this argument in Grand Committee on 9 March, when the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, whom I am pleased to see in her place this afternoon, spoke eloquently about these shingle beaches. I want to be fair to her and it is worth citing some of her words; I will not read the whole speech, but I will quote a short passage from it. The noble Baroness referred to the famous horticulturalist Derek Jarman and his wonderful book about the very special garden that he created in the shingle environment. She said:

“It is absolutely beautiful and I urge noble Lords to see the garden and to read the book. An example of its weirdness is: were you to put your finger in a pool in the shingle banks at Dungeness on the site of special scientific interest and linger for a while, you would probably find that you are in close fleshy personal communication with the medicinal leech”.—[Official Report, 9/3/10; cols. GC 61-62.]

She went on to talk about the spiritual value of such experiences.

I have no doubt that the potential adverse impact of a third nuclear power station at Dungeness has to be taken very seriously, but I contend that the IPC should have the opportunity to assess that against the strong arguments for including Dungeness in the list. It ought not to be for the Government to do that; it should be for the commission. However, the commission can deal with that only if it has an application and the site is on the list.

I briefly remind the House of the arguments in favour of Dungeness. First, there is already complete access to the national grid. This does not apply to a number of the other sites, so Dungeness could be one of the very earliest sites to have a new nuclear power station up and running on it. Secondly, it is a fact that the local community and Shepway and Hastings councils are overwhelmingly in support of having a nuclear power station at Dungeness. Thirdly, there is a need for more base-load power generation in the south of England to avoid the ever increasing transmission of power over long distances from the north. Finally, the Government have repeatedly emphasised, as part of their action against climate change, the need,

“to maximise the contribution of nuclear as soon as possible”.

That is the Government’s argument. I say that these are compelling arguments for adding Dungeness to the list.

I come back to the consultation paper and to paragraph 9, at which the Government say that the strategic site assessment, which is the basis on which they have drawn up their list,

“is conducted at an early stage in the planning process, and does not include an analysis of detailed plans and proposals”.

I repeat that it must be for the IPC, with a detailed plan and proposal before it, to assess the balance of benefits and adverse consequences. It is the one that should weigh all the arguments and it can do so only when it has had a specific application. That is why it is premature for Ministers to take Dungeness out of the frame.

I end by quoting the recommendation of the Select Committee in another place, which was quite clear about what it was putting forward. At paragraph 78, it says:

“We note the reasons for the Government’s exclusion of Dungeness from the draft nuclear NPS and the arguments against this decision put by the industry and the local community. We recommend the Department maintains an open mind throughout the current consultation, that it considers carefully the evidence submitted to the Committee by Shepway District Council and any other evidence submitted during the consultation and, if necessary, reconsiders its position”.

I am happy to adopt those words, with the added hope that the Government will reconsider their decision. I beg to move.