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  6. Barker rejects Welsh bid for infrastructure planning

Barker rejects Welsh bid for infrastructure planning

Energy and climate change minister Greg Barker has made it clear in Parliament that the Coalition has no intention of devolving more power to the Welsh Government over energy and planning policy.

That position was made clear when the issues were raised during a Commons debate during which Welsh MPs lined up to complain that while in Scotland the devolved administration had responsibility for most aspects of energy policy and planning the same wasn’t the case in the Principality.

Welsh MPs were particularly concerned over wind farm schemes and marine energy projects.

Barker told MPs: “Subject to the Localism Bill receiving Royal Assent, we believe that the right decision maker for major strategic energy infrastructure in England and Wales is the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Barker said a streamlined planning system minimises delays and cuts out unpredictability. In addition, he said that the crucial matter of investor confidence is best delivered through a unified planning administration that handles major energy projects in both England and Wales.

He added: “Some may argue that it is not appropriate for UK ministers to make decisions on major infrastructure applications in Wales. We would strongly disagree. UK ministers are as accountable to Welsh voters as they are to English voters and, in the absence of any compelling evidence to support a change, we vehemently believe that it is appropriate for UK ministers to take those important decisions on major infrastructure of national significance.

He insisted: “The Government see no evidence for reconsidering our strongly held position. The coalition Government’s policy on the matter is exactly the same as that of the previous Labour administration. This it is not an appropriate moment to consider substantive changes to the devolution settlement as it affects energy consents. We need to leave the settlement as it is”.

He added: “We also acknowledge that Welsh issues should be taken into careful consideration for major energy infrastructure applications within the Principality, and, of course, they already are. Currently, IPC commissioners with expertise in Welsh issues are appointed to panels for Welsh applications.

Barker said that it very important for Welsh issues to be considered in major infrastructure applications following the abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission.

He said: “Options are still being considered for how the new unit will work within the Planning Inspectorate. Welsh Government officials are significantly involved in that integration work.”

Read the full debate in Commons Hansard 6 Sept 2011: column 46WH.

Roger Milne

15 September 2011