DESNZ, led by Grant Shapps, the Energy Security Secretary, is said to support detailed plans put forward by National Grid for sweeping planning reform. It would be designed to allow for the construction of additional overhead cables and towers in just half the current seven-year period that typically elapses before such projects receive formal consent.
However, the proposals championed by DESNZ face resistance in the housing and environment departments, where officials fear a negative public reaction to a significant relaxation of planning restrictions for energy projects.
Under the plans, ministers would issue formal guidelines, known as a National Policy Statement, later this year, effectively forcing planning inspectors to approve projects needed to help the UK meet its targets.
This would be followed by a separate document setting out specific schemes, including electricity transmission cables, pylons and wind farms, which are part of the government’s net zero plans, in order to put “the full weight of the law planning” behind each of the specific plans. proposals.
Ministers would also slash the seven-year planning process to build new cables and transmission towers.
The last 18 months of that period are the Development Consent Order process, when the Planning Inspectorate decides whether to approve the project.
“Three to six months could be saved,” Pettigrew said.
John Armitt, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, which advises the government, suggested that the plans would always generate some local opposition.
But he added: “You really can’t accept that these local concerns are going to impede the big transitions that this country has to make in the next 20 years to deal with net zero, climate change and, fundamentally, in terms of supply lines.” transmission, electrifying our country in a way that was not as reliant on electricity in the past.”
Pettigrew added: “The more clarity you have on the policy and the easier it will be for the inspector to make a decision.”
He added that currently, “if there are local communities that feel the balance hasn’t been struck correctly between where it lands and how it impacts their community, then they can take a secretary of state for judicial review.”
But he said: “That in itself can be a two-year process. More clarity around the case of need, more clarity around the urgency and what supports [government] policy, and is minimizing the likelihood of that legal challenge.”
National Grid has told the government that an early draft of the National Policy Statement did not adequately set the required “pace and urgency”. He filed a formal response to a query about the document, which closed a week ago.
Pettigrew said: “What that statement needs to do is be absolutely clear about the need, the pace and the urgency of the energy-related infrastructure that is needed, to recognize the critical urgency of extending grids to support net zero.
“By doing that, then, if the Planning Inspectorate follows that policy, then there is less ambiguity and therefore less likelihood that it will be legally challenged, which happens quite often in these processes.”
National Grid has proposed that the government win the support of local communities with incentives such as lower energy bills for those who live near new energy infrastructure.
Barney Wharton, director of Future Electricity Systems at Renewable UK, the renewable energy industry body, said: “I think there needs to be something of a national debate about what infrastructure we need and where and how we build it. Because it’s a fundamental change in the way we design our power system.
“And there will be areas of the country, as we are seeing in East Anglia, where there was no electricity infrastructure before and now you will have much more, and that is a change.”
Maps produced by National Grid show hundreds of miles of new pylons and overhead cables that it says need to be completed by 2030, including a 112-mile power line between Norwich and Tilbury to connect two wind farms on the Suffolk coast.
The project, which runs through Therese Coffey’s Suffolk coastal constituency, already has significant opposition in East Anglia.
Last week National Grid published plans for 55 miles of new power lines between North Humber and High Marnham in Nottinghamshire.