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Planning for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects

Published Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Development Consent Orders for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects are granted by the Secretary of State as an alternative to needing planning permission from a local authority. Recent changes have removed onshore wind farms of over 50MW in size from this regime. Further changes are expected to be made by Government to the consenting process and to establish a National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory footing. This note provides further information about the consenting process and future changes.

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The Planning Act 2008 introduced a new development consent process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs). This was subsequently amended by the Localism Act 2011.  NSIPs are usually large scale developments (relating to energy, transport, water, or waste) which require a type of consent known as “development consent”. An extension of the regime in 2013 now allows certain business and commercial projects to opt into this process. 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.

The DCO process starts when an application is formally accepted by the National Infrastructure Planning Unit and lasts approximately 12-15 months. The final decision on granting a DCO rests with the Secretary of State for that field, based on advice from planning inspectors – known as the “examining authority”. The National Infrastructure Planning website provides a number of guidance documents on the processes.

Applications for DCOs are decided in accordance with National Policy Statements (NPSs), which after a process of 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.

The NSIP regime has been amended recently to reflect that:

  • Changes made by the Infrastructure Act 2015 in regard to the timing of the appointment of the examining authority, providing for two-person Panels, and amending the process for changes to, and revocation of, development consent orders.
  • The Infrastructure Planning (Onshore Wind Generating Stations) Order 2016 which removed onshore wind farms of over 50MW in size from the NSIP regime from 5 March 2016.

Future changes expected include:

  • As part of on-going reform of the NSIP regime, a number of non-planning related consents, including those relating to European Protected Species Licences are expected be brought within the development consent regime over the course of the 2015-2020 Parliament.
  • The Housing and Planning Act 2016 includes provision for a DCO to grant consent for housing which is linked to an application for an NSIP. The Act will also allow for consent to be granted for housing where there is no functional link, but where there is a close geographical link between the housing and the NSIP.
  • The Queen’s Speech 2016 announced that a Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill 2016-17 would put the National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory footing. One of the roles of the Commission will be to look at the UK’s future needs for NSIPS over the next 10 to 30 years. Any recommendations made the Commission which are then endorsed by Government would be considered to be Government policy.

This note applies to England and in some circumstances to Wales (see section 1.2). 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.

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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