Permission for waste-to-energy plant delayed when objections lead to ‘special parliamentary procedure’

The government plans to amend planning legislation for major infrastructure projects after it was revealed that permission for a £400m waste-to-energy plant had been delayed for over six months by a parliamentary scrutiny process.

Covanta Energy’s Rookery South waste-to-energy scheme in Bedfordshire was granted a development consent order (DCO) last October but local authorities, which will be required to sell land to Covanta under the DCO, object to the plans.

The objections have meant the proposal has had to go into a “special parliamentary procedure”, which entails examination by a small group of MPs. Last month the MPs gave authorisation for five of 39 objections to be heard by a wider group of MPs that would have the power to strike down the DCO.

The hearing is set to take place later this month, 21 days after the ruling, unless one of the Houses of Parliament decides to strike down the DCO before then.
But now, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is set to streamline the process. A spokesperson said the government “will remove duplication in the consenting regime for major infrastructure development”.

He added: “We will shortly publish draft revised guidance to make the regime clearer and easier to use.”

Angus Walker, partner at law firm Bircham Dyson Bell, said the procedure as it stood involved “unnecessary duplication of what has already been examined”.

Jon Dedman, head of energy at Davis Langdon, said investment confidence in the sector was weakened by the lengthy and complex planning delays.

“There are firms that want to invest in this now and they don’t want to commit to something which will take considerable time just to get through the planning process.

“We are finding that big schemes like this are difficult to get away anyway. What we are having to work on with clients is reducing the size [of the projects] and phasing them,” he said.

The Rookery South facility would have energy production capacity of 65MW and is one of five waste-to-energy projects Covanta has in its pipeline.