On Thursday November 4th Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Bedfordshire, asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs during question time in the House of Commons to halt the registration process for this project, being promoted by Covanta Energy in her constituency. Her question referred to potential objectors having to read a ‘7000 page document’ and that there are irregularities in the online registration process. Hansard records the following exchange;
“Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con):
What recent discussions she and officials of her Department have had with Covanta on its planned projects in Mid Bedfordshire constituency.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon):
I can confirm that there have been no recent discussions between DEFRA Ministers and Covanta about its planned projects in my hon. Friend’s constituency. DEFRA officials have attended meetings between Covanta and local authorities about Covanta’s planned projects there, as part of the standard procedure of supporting local authorities in their waste management procurement processes.
The Infrastructure Planning Commission has begun an online registration process for Mid Bedfordshire constituents to register their intent to object to the Covanta proposals. That process depends upon constituents having read a 7,000-page document. Will the Secretary of State and the Minister support me in a call to halt the online registration process today, so that the irregularities of it can be examined, and possibly so that it can be aborted and revisited at a later stage?
I am interested in that process, which fulfils part of the greater democratic accountability that the Government are talking about for decisions such as the one in my hon. Friend’s constituency, about which I know she feels strongly. That is why we are abolishing the IPC and replacing it with an organisation within the Planning Inspectorate that will have much more democratic accountability. I hope that as many of her constituents as possible can contribute to the consultation before 19 November, but I will discuss her views with colleagues elsewhere in government.”
Nadine Dorries followed up this exchange in the House with a letter to the Secretary of State and various ministers urging them to stop the IPC online registration process as follows:-
I am writing to ask you to halt, as a matter of urgency, the IPC registration process which is in place for the residents of Mid Bedfordshire to register their intent to object to the proposal by COVANTA to build a Wembley stadium sized incinerator in the midst of our constituency.
I would also like to request that your department carry out a full and detailed investigation in the way this process has operated to date and to pay particular attention to the un democratic format and process which excluded many of my constituents from being able to participate.
I would like to present you with a number of examples in order to explain why I have reached the conclusion that this would be an appropriate decision to take;
In their instructions for registering, the IPC have stated that:
“Please set out the principal submissions which you propose to make at the examination stage. We require a brief summary of the representations you wish to make. You should be aware that further representations and any submissions at a hearing MUST only relate to the issues you raise in this representation form. Relevant Representations will allow the Examining authority to determine the most appropriate method of Examining the application; a timetable will be issued after the preliminary meeting.”
The registration period ends on 19th November. There are at least two problems in complying with IPC’s requirement:
1. The application documentation runs to over 7,400 pages it is inconceivable that people most of whom don’t have access to professional advice, can digest this amount of material within the 42 days allowed by IPC to identify all of the issues of concern. It is impractical for many to view all of it online or to spend the extended hours needed to read it at the small number of locations where it is being made available. Covanta are charging £1,800 for a hard copy which for many people is totally unaffordable. I do not know if the information is being made available to those who need it in Braille or audio formats.
2. Revised Draft National Policy Statements for Energy have now been published by the government for consultation with a consultation period running until 24 January 2011. There can be no certainty over what changes will be made to the draft statements as a result of the consultation process and whether these would give rise to further issues that representors would want to raise but will be time barred by IPC from doing so.
It is fair to assume that if the draft policy statements are amended that the IPC consultation period may be challenged and would need to be re run as objections would have been made on historic information which would no longer be applicable.
3. Many constituents are complaining that the form is long, difficult to understand and complete. It asks questions which are entirely un related to the issue of an incinerator and asks for many personal details. The format alone would put many people off who simply would like to register their intention to object but do not have the time to a) read 7,400 pages and then complete a complex questionnaire.
4. These residents who are, largely retired or not in work and have had the time to both read the document and navigate the form have been dismayed to discover that they have received 20 days later, an email to inform them that they have missed out a field on the form and that their submission cannot be accepted.
As I am sure you are aware, it is very easy to miss a particular field when completing an online form, however, to wait 20 days to have this fact highlighted to the objector is outrageous.
Anyone completing their form today would receive their email requesting to re submit after the 19th of November which is when the cut off date has passed.
I can list many similar problems. Would you please, as a matter of urgency, stop this process now as the un democratic, exclusive manner in which the registration process is being conducted in no way has any bearing on the esteem within which this coalition Government regards local communities and the local democratic process.
This process has almost definitely been designed and approved by the previous Government. The intention to obfuscate and confuse in order to isolate local people as far away as possible from the decision making process is absolutely transparent and a well know hallmark of the previous administration which placed no trust local communities and Governed from the top down.
The coalition has to deliver better than this to local people and therefore I urge you, as a matter of utmost priority to halt this process today whilst your officials investigate, or at the very least, extend the process until a suitable date following the adoption of the amended draft policy guidelines.