PINS rejects Essex gas plant application over use of 'outdated' climate change data

The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has said it cannot proceed with the examination of a gas plant in Essex because the planning application ‘fell below’ submission standards and failed to take into account the latest guidance on flood risk and climate change projections.

The Planning Inspectorate's headquarters in Bristol
The Planning Inspectorate's headquarters in Bristol

In a letter sent last week on behalf of the secretary of state for business and energy, PINS refused to progress the planning application of developer Thurrock Power Ltd’s 750 megawatt (MW) peaking gas plant with 150MW battery storage facilities.

The inspectorate said the application “falls below the standard required to enable an examination of a nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP)”. 

Any energy project above 50MW in capacity is automatically classified as a NSIP under the Planning Act 2008 and an application must be made directly to PINS rather than the local authority, in this case Thurrock Council.

According to the 2018 scoping report prepared by consultants RPS Group, the proposed gas plant sits in a high-risk flood zone along the River Thames north of Tilbury substation in Thurrock.

As part of its environmental statement, Thurrock Power was asked by PINS to provide details about the climate modelling inputs it used to assess the impacts of water resources and flood risk.

Environment watchdog the Environment Agency had also advised the developer to assess the actual and residual tidal flood risk to the site over the lifetime of the project as part of its flood risk assessment.  

Such an assessment needed to include “climate change allowances for… peak river flow, peak rainfall intensity, sea level rise, and offshore wind speed and extreme wave height,” said the inspectorate.

While the developer’s flood risk assessment was recognised by the inspectorate, it states: “Unfortunately, the applicant’s [Flood Risk Assessment] has not been undertaken in line with the updated guidance and is instead reliant upon information taken from the UKCP09 sea level rise projections”.

The UK Climate Change Projections 2009 (UKCP09) are a set of climate forecasts, published by the Met Office to model projections of sea-level rise. However, in 2018 the models were updated (UKCP18), which set out “the most comprehensive and detailed picture of the UK’s temperature, rainfall and sea level rise over the next century”, according to the Met Office.

PINS said that because the proposed development is within a flood risk zone 3a with a high risk from tidal flooding, “failure to apply up-to-date sea level rise allowances in the Flood Risk Assessment brings into question the future baseline presented… and undermines the likely efficacy of the proposed mitigation since the worst-case scenario assumed could underestimate the likely effects from climate change”.

The inspectorate's letter added: “The application includes no evidence of any separate agreements reached with relevant consultation bodies regarding this approach to the assessment and demonstrating that the apparent divergence from guidance would not affect the outcome.”

PINS also refused to progress the application on landscape and design grounds.

To progress the application, PINS' head of operations Simone Wilding advised Thurrock Power to arrange a meeting with her.

To view the PINS letter in full click here

NOTE: A version of this story was previously published on the ENDS Report website here.

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