UK: Fast tracking the fast track: reforms to the nationally significant infrastructure consenting regime

Having tabled sweeping reforms to the planning system in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (see related publications) the government has turned its attention to speeding up the consenting regime for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) under the Planning Act 2008.  

A policy paper published on 30 August 2022 outlines how the government intends to fast track the fast track by reducing examination timescales, enabling faster post-consent changes to development consent orders (DCOs) and resolving capacity issues across government agencies providing technical advice on DCO applications.

The powers will be introduced by making amendments to the Bill in time for debate at the Commons committee stage of the Bill's passage through parliament.

Scroll down for a quick summary of the key proposals.

What's proposed?

In its 2020 National Infrastructure Strategy the government announced its desire to cut consent timescales for some NSIPs by up to 50% from 2023.  

This week's policy paper sets out three proposed changes to the NSIP consent regime designed to help achieve that ambitious goal:

Fast track consents

Amendments to the Bill will give the relevant Secretary of State the power to reduce the statutory timeframes for a DCO examination from the standard six months.  We're told that the government will consult on quality criteria, underlying regulations and guidance changes later in 2022 – until that point, the nuts and bolts of the proposed changes remain unclear.   

Faster post-consent changes

The complexity and time-consuming nature of making changes to DCOs is a recurring frustration for developers and stakeholders alike.  The government recognises this with the policy statement expressing frustration that non-material changes to DCOs can take up to 16 months to be determined, causing material delays to delivery.  To this end, the government proposes changes to allow it to develop and pilot an expedited approach to changes, including introducing statutory timeframes, which the current process doesn't have.

Charging for expert input

Identifying that a lack of capacity in key statutory agencies which provide technical advice on DCO applications is also causing delay, the government proposes to allow those agencies to charge developers for their services.  A consultation on the proposed approach to implementing charging frameworks is promised later in 2022.

A potential game-changer?

On the face of it, the government's proposed reforms have real potential to expedite decisions on DCO applications, reduce the burdens involved in making changes to consents and ensure that statutory agencies are sufficiently resourced.  

However, like many of the reforms promised in the first draft of the Bill, the meat needs to be put on the bones of these high level proposals.  We don't yet have details of the criteria or thresholds to determine which DCO applications will qualify for an abridged examination process or any detail on the expedited approach to scheme changes.

For all the talk of condensed examination timetables, it is notable that decisions on a number of recent NSIP applications have been delayed by the relevant Secretary of State at the decision-making stage, extending the decision-making period well beyond the allotted three months.  To reduce delays and ensure certainty in the NSIP regime it is important that, in addition to speeding up the passage of applications through the examination period, government directs its attention closer to home.

Looking forward

We await with interest the draft amendments to the Bill and the consultation, underlying regulations and changes to guidance.  Please contact Hannah Quarterman and David Wood for more information on how Hogan Lovells can help you to engage with these proposals – as well as the more general planning reforms in the Bill – at their formative stage.



Authored by David Wood.


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