North West Coast Connections Project - N Grid
I have grave concerns about the way in which these consultations have been structured. A national PRIVATE company (National Grid) wishes to put a major infrastructure in place. They hold ‘consultations in areas that might be affected’ but actually tell the surrounding communities what their preferred option is. They then take initial consultations which result in overwhelming support for an offshore option. This private company (NG) then reveals it is to go onshore throughout the Lake District National Park, across the Duddon Estuary in the setting of the National Park and connect via a tunnel across Morecambe bay (protecting the communities of south Lakeland). They then revise their preferred option to ‘mitigate‘, undergrounding in the LDNP, while incredibly still saying they will connect a power line section onshore across the setting of the National Park. This private company then tells us the bottom line is they have already shown great consideration with undergrounding and a tunnel, and the pylons across areas of outstanding natural beauty and SSSI land do not have ‘particularly significant’ effects on the landscape. To summarise, a private company tells citizens of the UK and the people of the Lake District what it will and will not do regarding OUR landscape? Since when have the population in a democracy been told what they must put up with by a private company! We are the communities who live here. In a democracy the people who live in an area should be stipulating what can and cannot be done in areas of outstanding natural beauty.
Most importantly, the private company National Grid is allowed to collate, count and sort the responses that they receive from the public who have responded! There is no public scrutiny from those who have put time and effort into campaigning against these monstrous proposals. How is this democratic? These communities do not trust National Grid with their responses, since their overwhelming desire for an offshore connection when asked for their views was completely ignored in the first consultation and then justified later by saying it was not a viable option anyway!! In the case of a national infrastructure development proposed by a private company, why do we not have safeguards such an INDEPENDENT company or group collecting, collating and reviewing the responses, while at the same time being open to scrutiny. This is absolutely intolerable- it is looking like corrupt behaviour from an overseas dictatorship rather than a democratic open society such as we supposedly call ourselves. At the very least we should have our MP John Woodcock, scrutinizing the responses alongside other interested parties.
I can address your concerns about the pre application consultation process directly, however, the Inspectorate must remain impartial in order to protect the interests of all parties that may participate in a future examination of an application, if and when one is submitted. As such, I am not able to comment on your views about the project itself.
Past and present Governments’ policy on the provision of infrastructure has led to the current situation where energy infrastructure, including power stations and electricity transmission lines, are developed and owned by private companies, and regulated by government through Ofgem and other similar bodies. If you disagree with Government policy in this regard then you should contact your local member of parliament or write directly to the responsible government minister.
Its not unusual for private companies to carry out consultation in many walks of life. In doing so, they are required to act responsibly and in accordance with data protection legislation. The same is true of the consultation undertaken by National Grid in respect of this project. In this context it would not be appropriate for National Grid to share consultation responses sent to them with 3rd parties unless they are a public body that has a formal (legal) role in the application process, such as the Planning Inspectorate or Secretary of State.
The legislation that underpins the pre application process for nationally significant infrastructure projects is contained in the Planning Act 2008 and related regulations. In general terms, these set down a minimum standard that applicants must meet when consulting with local communities, technical bodies and others. When an application is submitted, the Inspectorate has 28 days to check the documentation and to make sure it is of a standard that is capable of being examined within the statutory 6-month timescale. One of the documents we will check is a Consultation Report. In this Report, applicants are required to document what consultation activity took place at the pre application stage and how they had regard to the views put to them. We will also ask for the views of the relevant local authorities about whether or not the consultation undertaken by the applicant was adequate.
The views collected by National Grid are primarily to assist them to develop and refine their proposals before an application is made. The applicant is not required to agree with all the comments or to amend their proposals, however, in the Consultation Report they are required to provide reasons about why they have or have not changed their proposals in response to the comments received. If the Inspectorate considers it necessary, we can ask an applicant to provide us with all the responses received during the pre application stage so that we can cross-check them against the information set out in the Consultation Report.
Ultimately, it is for National Grid to design their project and justify it in their application for development consent. Part of this may include providing adequate information about why alternative design solutions were discounted at earlier stages of the project evolution. Like any other private or public organisation or individual they have a right to make an application for development consent. It is at their own risk if they submit an application that is not fully-formed, justified or mitigated properly using the views and information gathered at the pre application stage, and as a result falls short of gaining development consent.
I can assure you that if the application is accepted for examination, the appointed Examining Authority will carefully scrutinise the proposals and test it against the relevant National Policy Statement on electricity transmission infrastructure. In broad terms, the role of the Examining Authority will be to weigh the impact of the proposals against the Government’s policy on new transmission lines. The recommendation made by the Examining Authority to the Secretary of State about the project will be evidence based, taking account of all matters they decide are relevant and important. The Secretary of State (an elected Minister) will make the final decision about whether or not to grant development consent. The examination is held in public and all documents and any oral evidence provided and submitted to the Examining Authority is published during the course of the examination.
Anyone can participate in the examination by registering a relevant representation at the appropriate time. If you would like to be notified about the formal events that take place after the application is submitted then please enter your email address in the Email Updates section of the North West Coast Connections project page of the National Infrastructure Planning website.
More information about the pre application process and future stages can also be found on our website.