Planning - more changes on the horizon

The new National Infrastructure Plan 2013(NSIP 2013), unveiled by the Treasury on 4 December 2013 lists the department's top 40 priority infrastructure investment schemes in England and Wales.

Many of the projects listed, such as the Thames Tideway Tunnel, are either using the streamlined Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) process, set up by the Planning Act 2008, or would qualify to do so; but others, in the fields of communications, flood defence and science and innovation facilities, do not currently qualify to use the regime.

NIP 2013 states "To support the delivery of the Top 40 priority investments, the government will ensure, where possible, that these projects have the option to use the regime. These projects and programmes have been identified by government as critical priorities for delivery and, while each application to use the NSIP regime must be considered on its merits, the government will have regard to this ‘Top 40’ designation in those considerations." This implies a top 40 designation may become a factor in deciding whether to grant planning approval.

NIP 2013 also confirms:

  • That the government will proceed with plans to set up a specialist court to deal with planning-related judicial reviews, outlined for consultation earlier in the year, in order to "tackle delays to infrastructure delivery"  stating  that the court would "set deadlines to accelerate the handling of cases", while new legislation would "allow appeals to ‘leapfrog’ directly to the Supreme Court in a wider range of circumstances".
  • The Ministry of Justice will outline further planning-related reforms in January, the plan added.
  • A consultation on an overarching review of the NSIP regime with  the aim of "streamlining consultation and environmental information requirements to speed up the pre-application phase" and "expanding the scope of the 'one stop shop' for consents".
  • That the government wants "flexibility to make changes to development consent orders after a decision is made".

Other measures announced relating to the normal planning application process include:

  • Consultation on measures to improve plan making, including "introducing a statutory requirement to put a local plan in place". Given  the number of Councils who are still struggling to get a Core Strategy  in place, we await the consultation with interest.
  • New legislation so that "where a local authority has failed to discharge a [planning] condition on time, it will be treated as approved". This will be welcomed by developers.
  • To prevent delays, a consultation on "proposals to reduce the number of applications where unnecessary statutory consultations occur". Key statutory consultees will be required to commit to a common service agreement.
  • Working with businesses and councils "to develop a pilot[scheme] passing a share of the benefits of development directly to individual households".

Outlining the planning reforms, Lord Deighton said "If you are in the business of project promotion and development, you will know that from time to time, things can get stuck in planning and it doesn't always work as smoothly as we would want from an economic delivery point of view. But of course it does provide an important balance in terms of protecting the environment."

Ministers also announced a freeze on NSIP application fees for the rest of this Parliament to help keep costs down.

The National Infrastructure Plan 2013 can be found here

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