'Lights will go out' by 2015 if Lords rejects Planning Bill

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The Independent Online

The lights will go out across the UK in seven years if the Planning Bill coming up for review this week is rejected in the House of Lords, according to a leading business trade body. It estimates the country needs £100bn of investment in major energy plants by 2020.

The CBI has urged the House of Lords to pass the Planning Bill, under consideration tomorrow, to help secure the nation's energy and infrastructure needs.

It also accused the Conservatives of playing politics in opposing the Bill, with potentially damaging ramifications for the UK's future.

John Cridland, deputy director general of the CBI, said: "To keep the lights on, heat our homes and meet climate change targets, approximately £100bn needs to be invested in major energy infrastructure projects by 2020."

To avoid the power outages that have dogged South Africa and California in the past few years, the UK needs dozens of individual infrastructure projects from gas and coal-fired plants to wind and nuclear. The CBI said that with current complicated planning, legislation was "not fit for purpose", adding the Government's Planning Bill was crucial to speed up the process of approving these projects.

"The current planning system has always struggled with such projects and there is no way the number of projects necessary would come through the current system in time. The reforms ... in the Planning Bill are essential if business is to commit to the necessary investment," Mr Cridland said.

The UK needs seven new gas and coal-fired stations, 12 new nuclear stations and 40 wind farms, as well as 12 major gas storage plants, according to the CBI.

The second reading of the Bill is in the Lords tomorrow, before it goes to committee. It should be voted on before the end of the year.

The Bill was first proposed in a White Paper in May last year and is based around the creation of an independent body to oversee the planning applications for major energy infrastructure projects. The CBI supports the move, pointing to major infrastructure planning permission, such as Sizewell B, taking five years. It hopes a streamlined process would take as little as nine months.

Currently, the final decision sits with ministers and politicians fear that by handing the power to an independent body they are stripping democratic accountability out of the planning process, and taking power away from local officials.

The CBI disagreed. It said the Independent Planning Commission, which would comprise up to 30 experts, would act in a similar way to the Monetary Policy Committee at the Bank of England, with the final decision taken by a body of experts rather than politicians.