Our latest article for Wind Energy Network Magazine focusses on the fast tracking measures included in the UK Government's Energy Security Strategy and the potential issues that may arise with a sped-up Development Consent Order (DCO) process.

As readers will already know, the Government published its British Energy Security Strategy on 07 April 2022. The Strategy proposes various fast tracking measures which are designed to encourage and speed up the development of new solar, hydrogen, wind and nuclear projects. There are also proposals to support increased near-term investment in the UK’s domestic oil and gas sector.

Development Consent Order

There has been a great deal of discussion in the national press, in particular, about the promotion of steps to encourage wind power projects. In terms of off-shore wind, the Strategy proposes a reduction in the time by which projects will obtain consent to one year from four years. Of course, off-shore wind farms invariably qualify as ‘nationally significant infrastructure projects’ (NSIP). These require a Government decision granting permission through a Development Consent Order (“DCO”).

The DCO process is ‘front loaded’ such that all matters which are deemed relevant to the project have to be identified and addressed in detail within the pre-application consultation process. The consultation process is itself then followed by formal examination of the DCO application by a PINS appointed Inspector who will report findings arrived at to the Secretary of State.

Fast Tracking Consenting Route

Within the Strategy there is a proposal that there be a fast-track consenting route for priority cases, as long as quality standards are met. What these quality standards will be, and indeed how they would be deemed to have been met, is not yet known.

Furthermore, and as the Government is doubtless already very well aware, the High Court will be unlikely to shy away from ensuring that relevant matters which should be considered as part of the DCO application process are properly taken into account. Fast tracking the DCO process therefore raises a number of potential issues with regards to the thoroughness of the application process, and the impact this may have on the level of scrutiny which either the Planning Inspectorate, the Secretary of State, or indeed the Courts may feel is appropriate in each case.

Next Steps

In circumstances where Parliament seeks to reduce the time which is needed to examine applications for a DCO, the burden may therefore end up falling upon project developers to put even greater time, effort and cost into the preparation and conduct of the pre-application process.

We are now at the stage where the Government is proposing to publish draft amendments to the Planning Act 2008. Once this step takes place, we should be better placed to understand in detail how the UK is proposing to encourage the acceleration of renewable energy generation.

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