The draft National Policy Statement (NPS) on Waste Water - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

7  Deephams Sewage Treatment Works and the Thames Tunnel

49. The draft NPs includes significant sections (Chapters 3 and 4) on two London projects. The first is the replacement of the waste water treatment infrastructure at Deephams Sewage Treatment Works in North East London where there is likely to be a requirement for "significant new treatment facilities on the existing site or on another site", the location of which is yet to be confirmed.[94] The existing Deephams Sewage Treatment Works has a capacity of 870,000 population equivalent and the proposed improvement project may require an entirely new works to be built with a capacity of 885,440, meaning that the project will be above Planning Act thresholds and therefore be classed as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project.[95]

50. The second project addressed in the draft NPS is the Thames Tunnel project. This is a proposed 30 km tunnel running from West to East London to intercept storm sewer overflows and transfer them to Beckton Sewage Treatment Works in East London. A major part of the tunnel route is likely to be along the course of the River Thames. Thames Water is currently conducting a pre-application consultation exercise on potential routes and sites with local stakeholders, prior to an anticipated planning application being made in 2012.[96]

Planning Act threshold for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects: Thames Tunnel

51. The draft NPS states that the Thames Tunnel has since 2007 been the "preferred infrastructure solution" to address the problem of pollution caused by untreated sewage and rainwater discharges from London's combined sewer overflows into the River Thames.[97] However, the project does not currently meet the definitions in the Planning Act for a waste water NSIP, since it is not a sewage treatment works.[98] The Secretary of State confirmed on 6 September 2010 that, as intended by the previous Government, the project should be considered at national level and that development consent for it should be dealt with under the Planning Act's NSIP regime.[99] The Government proposes to amend the Planning Act by means of an Order under Section 14 of the Act to change the threshold definitions to bring the project within its ambit.[100]

52. Some witnesses, such as the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham,[101] and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, objected in principle to the inclusion of the Thames Tunnel in the NSIP processes.[102] The Government, in consulting on the change of threshold definitions, will need to explain clearly its reasons for including certain large-scale sewage collection and transfer projects within the new planning regime for NSIPs. However, with the Thames Tunnel project crossing some 14 London Boroughs, it is clear that applying the current planning system would be highly complex and the project appears to be a prime candidate to benefit from the streamlined processes of the NSIP regime. It is therefore perverse that the project, one of only two waste water NSIPs likely to come forward within the lifetime of this NPS, should have been excluded from the provisions in the Planning Act 2008 for large-scale projects despite having been identified as needed as early as 2007.

53. We recommend that the Government urgently brings forward proposals to amend the Planning Act 2008 to bring large-scale sewage collection and transfer schemes such as the Thames Tunnel within the planning regime for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.

Rationale for inclusion of locationally specific projects

54. Inclusion of locationally specific information is permitted under the Planning Act 2008 which states that an NPS may:

·  set out criteria to be applied in deciding whether a location is suitable (or potentially suitable) for a specified description of development;

·  set out the relative weight to be given to specified criteria, and

·  identify one or more locations as suitable (or potentially suitable) or unsuitable for a specified description of development.[103]

55. To date, the only other NPS to identify specific sites or projects relates to nuclear energy and identifies 10 sites as suitable for potential nuclear power station development.[104]

56. We considered whether including locationally specific information about the two London projects would assist decision making. The draft NPS states that it should not only provide a generic statement of policy but should also include "specific detail on the projects known to be coming forward",[105] and that as well as considering the need for new infrastructure in general the NPS should cover two NSIPs which have been "assessed as required to meet this need".[106] However, the document is not explicit in defining the benefits to decision makers from including such site-specific information. The Impact Assessment simply states that detailing known project proposals makes the process clearer for developers and others, reducing costs and time.[107] John Bourne, Defra's Deputy Director for Water Supply, told us that bringing the projects into the NPS would help the IPC in its deliberations "a bit further".[108] However, it is not clear how the sections as drafted will achieve this since the content of Chapters 3 and 4 is not sufficiently robust. We received evidence on the adequacy of these sections including from the IPC which had concerns about a blurring of the boundaries between the NPS and the role of the Commission. It recommended a review of the draft NPS's locationally specific sections to ensure that they provide a "robust policy context without infringing on areas which are properly the province of the applicant or the IPC".[109] We discuss below a number of detailed concerns about the content of Chapters 3 and 4 on the two London projects.

57. Beyond concerns about the content of the sections, we have a fundamental reservation about the underlying logic for including locationally specific material. There is a flaw in the rationale given by the Impact Assessment for producing an NPS containing a mix of generic and site specific information. The Impact Assessment states that three options were considered:

1) do not develop a Waste Water NPS (baseline);

2) develop a generic NPS, and

3) produce and designate a Waste Water NPS including specific detail on the projects known to be coming forward and covering those generic elements which support the requirement for new waste water infrastructure.

58. The Impact Assessment discounts option 2, developing a generic NPS, since this would "not cover the two schemes known to be in development." The Impact Assessment asserts that including the known proposed schemes would allow the "simplified system of the NPS to be used".[110] However, we dispute this argument since an NPS which is purely generic would nevertheless apply to any project defined by the Planning Act 2008 as a NSIP—including therefore the Deephams scheme. The Thames Tunnel project would only be classed as a NSIP once the Planning Act is amended—once that amendment is made that project would also fall within the ambit of a generic NPS.[111]

59. A further concern is that including separate criteria which apply only to the two identified projects has undermined the strength of the generic criteria applicable to all projects meeting relevant thresholds. For example, Chapter 2 sets out Government policy on the need for waste water infrastructure, identifying specific criteria for proving any project's need. However, Chapters 3 and 4 go on to set out material in support of the needs case for the two London projects which is not directly extrapolated from these generic principles. The document then concludes that the IPC should consider that the national need for both the Deephams scheme and Thames Tunnel projects has been demonstrated by Chapters 3 and 4 of the NPS.[112] Defra's Deputy Director for Water Supply told us that the NPS could have relied on the generic criteria as set out in paragraph 2.5.2 of the draft NPS but that the "default" position required by the Planning Act was that specific projects should be brought into the NPS if known. However, including site-specific needs cases for the two London projects is tautologous since both already meet the draft NPS's generic criteria for proof of a project's need—inclusion in the EA's National Environment Programme or an Asset Management Plan.[113]

60. We do not think that decision makers will be assisted by the locationally specific sections in the draft NPS as they do not amplify the generic principles, rather they undermine their logic by presenting a needs case based on analogous but different criteria. We consider that the NPS should be a generic document, applicable to all projects which comply with the statutory classification of a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, with clear criteria which can then be applied by decision makers to specific project applications as and when they are submitted.

61. We recommend that the draft NPS be revised to produce a purely generic document by removing Chapters 3 and 4 on the replacement of the Deephams Sewage Treatment Works and the Thames Tunnel. Defra may wish to provide material in an annex exemplifying points made in the NPS by reference to specific schemes, but it should be made clear that it does not constitute information to which decision makers must have regard when considering project applications.

Need for replacement of Deephams Sewage Treatment Works and for the Thames Tunnel

62. Whilst we consider that the draft NPS should not include site-specific material in the main document, we received a great deal of evidence expressing concerns about the content of the sections on the Deephams and Thames Tunnel projects, which it is worth highlighting. Some witnesses, including Thames Water, considered that the needs case for the projects should be enhanced, in particular to reflect the fact that EU environmental requirements are driving the need for these two projects. Key EU Directives governing management of the UK's water environment include the Urban Waste-Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD),[114] the Freshwater Fish Directive,[115] and the Water Framework Directive (WFD).[116] Although the draft NPS makes reference to the UWWTD and Freshwater Fish Directives as drivers for the need to replace Deephams Sewage Treatment Works, Thames Water considered that the document should include "a clearer and more robust statement" of the need for new projects. It should also set out the legal requirements driving that need and the "consequences of a failure to meet those requirements".[117] The company argued that the Thames Tunnel was required not least because the EU had begun infraction proceedings against the UK Government for non-compliance with the UWWTD due to waste water pollution of the River Thames.[118]

63. On the other hand, other witnesses considered the needs case as set out in the draft NPS to be overstated. The Greater London Authority (GLA) rejected the Government's assertion that failure to adopt the NPS would result in failure by the UK Government to meet obligations in the UWWTD.[119] The GLA argued that not having an NPS did not mean that "poor decisions will be made, it just means that decisions will not have a single source of policy advice to follow".[120]

64. Witnesses also had reservations as to the adequacy of the draft NPS's sections on alternatives to constructing new infrastructure. London Councils was concerned that the draft NPS did not contain "particular advice" on alternatives to the London schemes such as reducing demand, diverting surface water from sewage systems or decentralisation of waste water treatment infrastructure. It argued that, since previously rejected alternatives to the Thames Tunnel had now had their cost assessments revised, it was inappropriate to restrict the IPC's consideration of "plausible alternatives".[121] The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham claimed that, despite seven years of examination, options such as sustainable urban drainage systems, rainfall and storm-water harvesting, and separation of storm flows had been given only "scant" attention.[122] The Minister conceded that there could be a "bit more" information included on the need for specific projects which would help the IPC further.[123]

65. The brief sections in the NPS on the replacement of the Deephams Sewage Treatment Works and the Thames Tunnel are not sufficient to prove the need for these large-scale projects, in particular the multi-billion pound Thames Tunnel project which will have impacts over a period of years on the lives and livelihoods of people living and working locally. Nor do the sections on the alternative approaches sufficiently address all of the potential options for achieving desired outcomes such as improved water quality. We recommend above that site-specific material is not included in the main NPS but it is important that Defra ensures that wherever such information is used it is robust and complete.

66. We recommend that Defra include in any justification of new waste water infrastructure projects full explanation as to how they will help to meet national and European environmental requirements. The Department should also provide more detail on the potential alternative methods of achieving environmental outcomes, such as improved water quality, which new infrastructure is designed to achieve.

94   Draft NPS, p 15, para 3.1.2. Back

95   Section 14(1) (o) of the Planning Act sets out the definition of a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project in relation to the construction or alteration of a waste water treatment plant. Construction of a waste water treatment plant is defined in section 29 of the Planning Act 2008 as coming within section 14 (1) (o) only if the plant is in England and has a capacity exceeding a population equivalent of 500,000. Back

96   Thames Water Plc has a consultation webpage which can be found at Back

97   Draft NPS, p 21, paras 4.1.2 and 4.1.3. Back

98   Section 14(1) (o) of the Planning Act sets out the definition of a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project in relation to the construction or alteration of a waste water treatment plant.  Back

99   Draft NPS, p14, para 2.6.4. Back

100   Q 178 Back

101   London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, Submission to Defra NPS Consultation, February 2011. Back

102   Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Submission to Defra NPS Consultation, February 2011. Back

103   Planning Act 2008, Section 5 (5). Back

104   Department of Energy and Climate Change, National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power (EN6), October 2010. Back

105   Draft NPS Impact Assessment, p 1. Back

106   Draft NPS, p 3. Back

107   Draft NPS Impact Assessment. Back

108   Q 181 Back

109   Ev w1  Back

110   Draft NPS Impact Assessment. Back

111   Planning Act 2008, Section 14. Back

112   Draft NPS, p 20, para 3.3.8, and p 27, para 4.2.1. Back

113   Draft NPS, p 7. Back

114   The Urban Waste-Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC) was adopted by Member States in 1991 and transposed into UK legislation by the end of January 1995. Its objective is to protect the environment from the adverse effects of sewage discharges. It sets treatment levels on the basis of sizes of sewage discharges and the sensitivity of waters receiving the discharges. Back

115   The EC freshwater Fish Directive (2006/44/EC) was originally adopted on 18 July but consolidated in 2006. It will be repealed in 2013 by the Water Framework Directive which includes extensive measures to improve water quality. Back

116   Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EU). Back

117   Ev 53  Back

118   As above.  Back

119   Draft NPS, p 6, para 1.5.3. Back

120   Ev 55  Back

121   Ev 58  Back

122   London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, Submission to Defra Consultation, February 2011. Back

123   Q 181 Back

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Prepared 5 April 2011