Reasonable alternatives

9th February 2017

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  • Business & Industry ,
  • Built environment ,
  • Planning ,
  • Management


Alice Newman

Consultancy Savills uses a real case to show how different options should be part of the assessment process

To show how the stipulation will work in practice, take the example of a planning application for a high-voltage electric line (132kV) that will run above and below ground.

Setting the scene

Studies indicate that reasonable alternatives in EIA should meet six criteria:

  • they are considered early in the design process;
  • they are credible and appropriate for the project;
  • comparisons have been made between them;
  • a consultation has been conducted on them;
  • they include additional forms of mitigation alongside the alternatives; and
  • the environmental statement contains information on alternatives and the approach used to select them.

The application for the electric line was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate under the Planning Act 2008 and consisted of the construction, operation and maintenance of a new connection between a generating facility that had been granted approval and an existing overhead line (OHL). The link was approved by the secretary of state in 2016.

The starting point for considering other routes under the 2008 act is for the examining authority to look at what is proposed in the application. The authority cannot suggest its own routes.

The scheme developer produced a strategic optioneering report (SOR), which set out the costs of the engineering options available to connect the generating plant to the electricity network. The developer believed there were several ways to connect the two, including overhead lines, underground cables, alternative connection points and a separate or combined route for the generating facility.

The SOR provided details of the developer’s network and explained why one grid supply point was the preferred connection point. The route options for this connection formed the basis for the consultation among stakeholders during the statutory pre-application process. A recurring theme was the desire of interested parties – comprising statutory bodies, NGOs and the public – for the connection to be entirely underground.

Planning considerations

A desk-based assessment of environmental constraints was carried out by the developer of the study area as well as a spatially defined area around it. This assessment identified designated areas and features. The developer then outlined its:

  • Preferred route corridors – These were suggested to avoid nationally designated areas, such as national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. The developer carried out a consultation to assist in deciding the preferred corridor.
  • Selected route corridor – The developer included several potential route alignments in its preferred corridor and a statutory consultation was carried out with stakeholders. The developer also consulted on the proposed development, which included the OHL and underground section.
  • Route alignment – The preferred route alignment was chosen and formed the basis of the application for a development consent order (DCO).

National Policy Statement (NPS) EN-5 states that, if there are serious concerns about a proposed overhead line’s possible adverse landscape and visual effects, mitigation may be best. Concerns about these effects were two of the main drivers for selecting the preferred route. The developer concluded that running the line underground would mitigate what would otherwise be highly significant adverse impacts in one area.

Most interested parties were opposed to the OHL. In their representations, they suggested four options to the developer’s preferred alignment: putting the whole route underground; using an existing OHL; running the line in trunking next to a main road; and placing a further section underground when it reaches a non-statutory designated area that is deemed sensitive in terms of cultural heritage.

In law

Under the Infrastructure Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2009 (as amended), there is no requirement to assess all potential options, only to provide a review of those that have been considered. In relation to the first – laying the whole route underground – the developer persuaded the examiner that the extra economic, social and environmental impacts would clearly outweigh the benefits. The developer concluded that the second and third options – using an existing OHL and the trunking next to a main road – were not plausible. There were additional costs and potential landscape impacts associated with the second, while the trunking was not believed to be big enough to support underground electricity cables.

The examiner recommended that option four – laying the lines in a culturally sensitive area – be included in the DCO. In its favour was the lack of objections to this approach during the consultation and because it complied with local policies.

Lessons learned

Stakeholders were engaged in the development of the project early on – more than two years before the planning application was submitted. Engagement was also extensive, with three separate rounds of consultation, although some stakeholders failed to appreciate how to engage with the process of proposing other solutions.

The key messages from this case study are that, if interested parties wish to have an alternative considered in an examination, they need to:

  • engage in the pre-application consultation;
  • provide substantive information on proposed alternatives; and
  • ensure these are reasonable (in accordance with reason or sound thinking), credible and suitable.

Developers, meanwhile, must ensure that the proposed alternatives:

  • have undergone a form of consultation that may have influenced their selection;
  • have been compared against each other; and
  • suggest additional forms of mitigation.

All parties in the process need to understand that the starting point in considering alternative routes under the 2008 act is that the examining authority can look only at what is proposed in the application. It cannot suggest an alternative or recommend granting a DCO for a scheme that follows a different route or locations for works other than those in any draft order accepted for examination. The examining authority can consider an alternative only if it has been put forward as part of the application, although other options can be looked at if they are proposed and accepted into the examination.

The Savills’ team is: Tim Waterfield, director of strategic projects; Karl Cradick, director of planning; Richard Frost, director of energy and planning; and Gillian Froud, associate director strategic projects.


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