Friday, 5 March 2010

Private Eye on the IPC boss

Private Eye has succeeded in exposing the financial interests of the man who will head the Infrastructure Planning Commission, a body that will decide on key planning decisions in Wales:

The man in charge of deciding how £400 bn will be spent in infrastructure investment over the next decade holds shares in many of the energy companies that will benefit from his decisions, the Eye can reveal.

The Governments new Infrastructure Planning Commission is meant to be an objective arbiter over spending on energy security and low carbon power generation, and will take over from local authorities planning decisions on projects of 'national significance', many of them highly controversial.

Its chief executive is John Saunders, an obscure banker who has no experience in planning but comes direct from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), following a stint licensing bouncers at the Security Industry Association.

Those likely to be affected by the turbines and power stations to come will at least hope Saunders' commission makes its decisions impartially and transparently. So it is not reassuring that it recently refused to release details of its commissioners' financial interests, a spokesman telling the Eye that it was "personal information protected by the data protection act".

This was always nonsense , and the Eye has now forced a detailed response from the commission using freedom of information laws. The details perhaps make the reason for the initial secrecy clearer. Saunders has declared shareholdings in the following companies:

National Grid, National Power, Powergen (now owned by E.on), Innogy and Northern Ireland Electric.

Strangely, most of these have big projects for which they are seeking approval from the IPC. Innogy already has two wind farm proposals before the commission;National Grid has three transmission projects and National Power (now RWE nPower) has three proposals including a gas-fired power station - all this before the commission was due to start accepting applications from 1 March.

Saunders' declaration of his interests suggest he's not too bothered about the financial incentive he has to wave the companies' applications. " A decision whether or not to sell or to pass ownership to a blind trust is currently being taken," he declares. So that's all right then.