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Planning for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects

Published Monday, July 17, 2017

Before the 2017 general election the previous Government published a draft Airports National Policy Statement. Find out more about the next steps for this if taken forward and about the national infrastructure planning framework in this briefing paper.

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What are Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs)?

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) are large scale developments (relating to energy, transport, water, or waste) which require a type of consent known as “development consent”. The Planning Act 2008 introduced a new development consent process for NSIPs which was subsequently amended by the Localism Act 2011

A Development Consent Order (DCO) automatically removes the need to obtain several separate consents, including planning permission and is designed to be a much quicker process than applying for these separately. An extension of the regime in 2013 now allows certain business and commercial projects to opt into this process.

Development Consent Orders (DCOs)

The DCO process starts when an application is formally accepted by the National Infrastructure Planning Unit and lasts approximately 12-15 months. The process however, is front-loaded with a number of pre-application consultation requirements, which, depending on the complexity of the project, can take a number of years to carry out.

The final decision on granting a DCO rests with the Secretary of State for that field. The National Infrastructure Planning website provides a number of guidance on the processes.

National Policy Statements (NPSs)

Applications for DCOs are decided in accordance with National Policy Statements (NPSs), which after a process of public consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny are formally “designated” by Government. There are currently 12 designated or proposed NPSs, which fall under the categories of hazardous waste, water supply, energy, transport networks, aviation and ports.

An emerging NPS can carry some weight for decision takers in the development consent process. The amount of weight given will depend on how far along the process the NPS is at and how much consultation has taken place.

Draft airports NPS

On 2 February 2017 the previous Conservative Government published its draft Airports National Policy Statement. This was accompanied by a formal consultation which closed on 25 May 2017.  The draft NPS explained the Government’s general policy and reasons for supporting a third runway at Heathrow. It also set out particular considerations relevant to any DCO airport expansion application.

Recent changes to the NSIP regime

  • The Infrastructure Act 2015 amended the process for changing and revoking DCOs.
  • A National Infrastructure Commission was set up in 2015 to examine the country’s long-term infrastructure needs.
  • Onshore wind farms of over 50MW were removed from the NSIP regime in 2016.
  • From April 2017 DCOs can include an element of housing when associated with an NSIP.

Extent and further information

This note applies to England and, where specified, to Wales. See the joint Library briefing paper Comparison of the planning systems in the four UK countries: 2016 update for information about consenting regimes in the other UK countries.

The Library briefing paper, Infrastructure Policy examines the current state of infrastructure in the UK, current levels of investment and recent Government policy.

Commons Briefing papers SN06881

Author: Louise Smith

Topic: Planning

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