NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE PLANNING IN ENGLAND
The planning system in England was significantly altered by the Planning Act in 2008 to provide a new policy and consent regime that allowed for the co-ordinated planning of ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects’ (NSIPS) at a national rather than local level.
An NSIP is a large-scale development that is related to:
- Waste Water
The new powers enabled decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects (such as major train lines, new harbours, roads, windfarms, power stations, electricity transmission lines etc) to be taken by Ministers following a public inquiry, rather than by local authorities.
DEVELOPMENT CONSENT ORDERS
Development Consent Orders (DCOs) automatically remove the requirement for those proposing NSIPs to obtain several separate planning permissions and other consents from local authorities.
This provides for a much-streamlined process and negates the need to apply to different local authorities where large proposals are ‘cross-boundary’.
By giving ministers powers to determine proposals, the process excludes local politics from the initial decision-making process. It also negates the need for proposers to apply to and get an inevitable locally determined refusal before having to appeal and get a decision from the Secretary of State in any event.
An extension of the regime in 2013 facilitated certain business and commercial projects to opt into this process as well as NSIPs.
The DCO process comprises six key stages, including pre-application, acceptance, pre-examination, examination, decision and post-decision stages.
Applications for major infrastructure projects are made direct to the Planning Inspectorate, who, upon receipt of an application for development consent, have 28 days to decide whether to accept it.
If valid, the Inspectorate then have 6 months to examine an application and three months to make a recommendation. Independent Inspectors make recommendations to the Secretary of State within the policy framework set by the Government’s National Policy Statements (NPS).
Whilst the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has overall responsibility for the planning system in England, it is the relevant Secretary of State with responsibility for the area of government business that a DCO application relates to that makes the decision in each case. As an example, the Secretary of State for Transport would determine an application for a Transport NSIP rather than the Secretary of State for HCLG.
The Infrastructure Act 2015 amended the process for changing and revoking DCOs. A National Infrastructure Commission was set up in 2015 to examine the England’s long-term infrastructure needs. Onshore wind farms of over 50MW were removed from the NSIP regime in 2016.
Changes set out in April 2017 provided for DCOs to have an element of housing when associated with an NSIP.
The Planning Inspectorate keep a register of DCO applications which is available online: PINS Register of applications.
NATIONAL POLICY STATEMENTS
National Policy Statements set out government policy and decision-making guidance applicable to ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects’ (NSIPs) in England.
There are 12 National Policy Statements, which cover:
- Overarching NPS for Energy (EN-1)
- NPS for Fossil Fuel Electricity Generating Infrastructure (EN-2)
- NPS for Renewable Energy Infrastructure (EN-3)
- NPS for Gas Supply Infrastructure and Gas and Oil Storage (EN-4)
- NPS for Electricity Networks Infrastructure (EN-5)
- NPS for Nuclear Power Generation (EN-6)
These documents were produced by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and all were formally adopted in July 2011. They can be viewed via the DECC Pages on Gov.uk.
- National Networks
Responsibility for preparing these documents rests with the Department for Transport.
The NPS for Ports was adopted in January 2012.
The National Networks NPS was adopted in January 2015.
The Airport NPS which set government policy for new runway capacity and infrastructure in the SE of England was adopted in 2018.
Water, Waste Water and Waste
- Water Supply
- Hazardous Waste
- Waste Water Treatment
- Geological Disposal Infrastructure
Responsibility for preparing these documents rests with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
The NPS for Waste Water was adopted in February 2012.
The Hazardous Waste NPS was published in June 2013.
The Geological Disposal Infrastructure NPS was confirmed in July 2019.
A draft Water Supply NPS was issued for consultation in late 2018/early 2019, but has not yet been designated.
REFORM OF THE NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE PLANNING SYSTEM
An operational review of the NSIP regime was announced by government in the summer of 2021.
The operational review forms part of the National Infrastructure Planning Reform Programme.
In the government’s Autumn Budget Statement in November 2023, it was announced that NSIPs are to be reviewed more regularly as part of a wider drive to update planning rules, increase productivity and economic growth.
Under the plans NPSs for energy, water, and national networks would be reviewed at least every five years, instead of every 10 years as has been the case to date.
On the same day the government also published its response on the draft Energy NPS ahead of publication expected in early 2024.
The government is also in the process of updating NPSs relevant to water, and national networks.
These will take effect when they have been designated following parliamentary approval.
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