The first report of the evening was introduced by the Assistant Director of Planning and Regeneration regarding the decision and delegation protocols for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. She explained that the Council had recently been made aware of three Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) where West Lindsey District Council would perform the role of ‘Host Authority’ in the Development Consent Order (DCO) process. It was explained that NSIPs were considered by the Planning Inspectorate for ultimate decision by the relevant Secretary of State, in this case, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The Committee heard that the three NSIPs all proposed large scale solar farm development. The scale of the proposal was measured in megawatts, with anything above 50 megawatts being an NSIP. All three proposals were significantly above this 50-megawatt scale, meaning they sat outside of the realms of the Town and Country Planning Act. Timescales were still being firmed up by the developers with early indications that they would enter the statutory stage of public consultation by mid 2022 with a view to submitting the DCO application late 2022.
The Assistant Director of Planning and Regeneration stated there were six stages of the NSIP process and the role of the host authority – as set out in the 2008 Planning Act - was clearly defined. Although not the ultimate decision maker, the local authority had the opportunity to provide an important local perspective, and was expected to respond to the Planning Inspectorate within tight timescales. Officers had contacted the Planning Inspectorate directly and they had offered to facilitate a workshop session with Officers and Members to ensure the Council maximised the input into the process.
One of the early tasks for Local Authorities, as set out in the PINS guidance, was to establish the delegations and decision-making process for each stage, that being the purpose of the paper presented at this stage.
Members were directed to Appendix 1 of the report, which set out the full list of documents that the local authority must prepare / agree a response to, at what stage of the process these were required and the proposed decision route. It was suggested that Prosperous Communities Committee take the decision on the Local Impact Report and the Written Representations to the examination, with the Case Officer presenting a recommended position, informed by specialists and the outcome of public engagement. It was emphasised that, where the proposed route of decision was Officer delegation, this would be in consultation with the Chair of the Committee. An important part of the process would be ongoing briefings with Members, to ensure that Members were able to fully engage in the process. It was also highlighted that, as there was a number of DCOs to be dealt with, should there be a requirement to review the process, this would be subject to a further paper to the Committee.
The Chairman emphasised the importance of engaging with the process and thanked everyone involved to date for their time and effort. Whilst it was recognised that the decision would not be made by the council, it was acknowledged that involvement in the process was still necessary and relevant. Members expressed their dissatisfaction that the decision would not be made locally, however, there was acceptance that this was the case and, in recognition of the need to maximise involvement in the process, the recommendation was moved and seconded. On taking the vote it was
RESOLVED that the decision and delegation protocols when acting in the role of “host authority” for a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, as detailed in Appendix 1, be APPROVED and as such, delegate the following responsibilities to the Assistant Director of Planning and Regeneration at this time:
· Preparation and sign off of Planning Performance Agreement
· Preparation and sign off of S106 Agreement
· Statement of Community Consultation (SOCC) response
· Draft Preliminary Environmental Impact Report response (draft Environmental Statement)
· Environmental Statement (submission version) – ongoing dialogue
· Adequacy of Consultation Response (AoC)