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Planning creating perverse incentives

Firms looking to build biomass power stations are being encouraged to “deliberately skew” their proposed plants in order to circumvent planning rules, a leading waste expert MP has warned.

Alan Whitehead, the Labour MP who co-chairs the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group, said the planning system was creating problems for projects which were “larger than local but smaller than national”, a category occupied by many biomass applications.  

He told the Waste to Energy City Summit: “I think it’s fair to say the way planning is going at the moment creates a gap between what is very local and what is national.   

“With the new legislation coming in on localism it’s not easy to see in the first instance how that larger than local issue will easily be addressed.”

He added: “One of the possible developments is the emergence of applications which deliberately skew energy output to the larger end so that they come in under the national planning guidelines rather than local planning guidelines.

“Whether it’s a good policy outcome to have a large number of EfW biomass plants producing more than 50 megawatts of output in order to come under the national planning arrangements is a moot point.”

As it stands, projects deemed to be of national significance are dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate quango while others are dealt with by local authorities.\

Whitehead added that over the three years between 2008 and 2011 there were 14 major applications for new energy from waste biomass plants in the UK.

Of the 14, 12 were turned down despite the fact all of them had the support of the planning officers.

“Even now [the planning system] is a considerable hurdle in getting those plants built,” he added.

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