Welsh Assembly approves new Developments of National Significance regime

Welsh Assembly Government ministers will decide on major infrastructure applications, including wind farm applications with a proposed installed generating capacity of between 10 and 50 megawatts, following a vote in the assembly yesterday.

Wind power: Welsh ministers to get more power to decide on applications
Wind power: Welsh ministers to get more power to decide on applications

The Welsh Assembly voted yesterday to implement regulations which set out the types of development which would fall under the new Developments of National Significance (DNS) regime, as set out in the Planning (Wales) Act 2015.

These are: electricity generating stations (including onshore wind farms) with an installed generating capacity of between 10 and 50 megawatts; underground gas storage facilities; facilities for liquid natural gas; gas reception facilities; airports; railways; rail freight interchanges; dams and reservoirs; facilities for transfer of water resources; waste water treatment plants and hazardous waste facilities.

Under the DNS regime, developers seeking planning permission for infrastructure development which is identified as a development of national significance would be able to submit their applications to Welsh ministers rather than to their local authority.

Currently, Welsh projects with a capacity of less than 50 megawatts are determined by the relevant local authority, unless called in or appealed following refusal.

A consultation last year had suggested said that energy projects with a generating capacity of 25-50MW would be included under the DNS regime.

An explanatory memorandum said that, following a consultation, the Welsh Government had decided against this option.

It said that its chosen option "captures the list of infrastructure development likely to arise in Wales, but revises the threshold for energy generating stations to capture those between 10MW and 50MW generating capacity".

The memorandum said that: "By prescribing project types as DNS, the Welsh ministers will be able to speed up the planning process for infrastructure projects (largely expected to be renewable energy schemes). This will contribute to ministerial aims of encouraging economic growth and to achieving low carbon and sustainable energy aspirations."

The document added that "inclusion of all energy generation which is within competence and greater than 10MW in generating capacity ensures that the largest of these schemes are determined at an appropriate level, in a timely manner supporting these aims."

It said the regime would give local planning authorities the "ability to focus their resources on more frequent and regular casework by removing the irregular but complex infrastructure casework. Infrastructure applications require specialist knowledge which LPAs may not be able to develop and retain due to the low volume of these applications.

"Creating a different application route for the majority of infrastructure schemes will enable LPAs to dedicate more resources to more regular applications for planning permission."

It added that developers "can expect to receive a quicker decision on applications for infrastructure development prescribed as DNS, including the largest onshore wind generating stations, increasing certainty in the application process".

The regulations come into force on 1 March.

The draft Wales Bill, published in October, proposes devolving ministerial decision-making on electricity-generating schemes excluding onshore wind developments of up to 350MW from London to Cardiff.

However, to implement a Conservative election pledge, the separate Energy Bill would devolve decision-making on onshore wind schemes of up to 350MW to Welsh local authorities.

Gareth Barton, associate director in consultancy Turley’s Cardiff office, said that this could potentially lead to a "gap" between those onshore wind developments handled under the 10-50MW DNS regime and those between 50 and 350MW, which could potentially be decided by local authorities.

Barton said it was a "strange situation", and could lead to uncertainty for developers seeking to progress schemes above the 50MW threshold.

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