The Energy White Paper may not be published until late 2021, it has emerged, as campaigners have issued a High Court challenge to the government over its failure to consider reviewing planning policy statements in the light of new legislation on New Zero.
The campaigners say that the Energy White Paper will be delayed by up to a year and the suite of six policy statements that underpin approval for energy projects will not be re-examined until late 2021.
The Good Law Project joined with Ecotricity chief executive and founder Dale Vince and Guardian columnist George Monbiot in an unsuccessful challenge to the development consent granted for new gas-fired power plants at Drax in Yorkshire. But now they have submitted a broader claim for judicial review of a decision by officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy not to review the energy planning policy statements, even though the statements date back to 2011 and the Climate Change Act set a new ‘Net Zero’ carbon emissions target for 2050.
White Paper could be delayed to 2021
In their Statement of Fact the campaigners say that the Energy White Paper “is not now expected until the earliest mid-2021”, based on a letter sent to the plaintiffs in late April. It said that due to ‘current circumstances’, including Covid 19, “There has been unavoidable delay. The government’s expectation is that it should be published within the next 12 months”.
Suggestion of further delay will dismay the power sector, which has been waiting for publication of the White Paper since mid 2019. The industry regards it key to a ‘green recovery’ from Covid-19. Delay until 2021 would also mean that the UK is developing, rather than implementing, policy at the time it is hosting the COP meeting in Glasgow delayed from 2020 until 2021.
No clarity on planning
According to the campaigners’ Statement of Fact the BEIS letter also says the White Paper will be a “significant factor” in deciding “whether a review of the [overall] NPS is appropriate”. The letter adds that it would be premature to decide whether to review the Energy NPSs until after the Energy White Paper is published.
But the campaigners note that the secretary of state did not take a decision not to review the statements; instead officials decided the question was premature. That amounts to a decision, the campaigners say. In addition, they say that the material change represented by the Net Zero target means “the only rational decision for the Secretary of State to take is that it is appropriate to review the Energy NPSs now.”
The Net Zero target has certainly factored strongly in debates over development consent. In February in a challenge over Heathrow Airport expansion the High Court found that the government should have taken the Net Zero decision into account. Planning law specialist and blogger Angus Walker of BDB Pitmans noted at the time that, “The court does not say that this is the end of the Airports NPS, but that the government merely needs to carry out the exercise of giving reasons as to how the NPS takes climate change mitigation policy into account” (see his comment on the current challenge here).