Charging questions raised on councils' project input

Councils could face a raft of responsibilities under the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) regime despite receiving no extra funding, experts have warned.

Applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) will be handled by the IPC. But councils will contribute to the consultation and ensure that projects progress in line with the permissions.

Bircham Dyson Bell partner Angus Walker raised the issue after a briefing held by IPC chairman Michael Pitt. He told Planning: "Authorities will have to police applications and check that schemes proceed in accordance with planning consents. They will have a significant amount to do and will not get any money for it. The government may have to provide help."

Speaking at another briefing last week, Pitt revealed that the IPC is expecting plans for a nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset, seven power stations, eight wind farms, 15 upgrades to the national grid, a freight depot and 13 motorway or trunk road improvements in its first year.

Planning Officers Society president David Hackforth observed that major projects often involve rural authorities, which may not have the capacity to fulfil their role under the new regime. He suggested that councils should either receive a percentage of IPC application fees or agree a charging system for time spent dealing with NSIPs.

The DCLG and DECC wrote to authorities in July advising that they should recover costs from developers using planning performance agreements (PPAs). But the Campaign to Protect Rural England is concerned about a conflict of interest (Planning, 17 July, p1).

Hackforth also queried the practicality of this approach. "It would be difficult to charge operators for enforcement work. It would be like the police charging a criminal for time spent arresting him," he said.

The Advisory Team for Large Applications (ATLAS) has helped authorities, including Hinkley Point, draft PPAs. The group's head Simon Leask said: "Councils will have a key role working with project promoters and resource implications could be significant."

ATLAS is commissioning an evaluation of PPAs which may result in revised guidance, he added. "The key is to be transparent and ensure that the approach does not influence decision-making."

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