"Better, faster, greener, fairer and more resilient."
In the face of changing demands and the throttling of consenting speeds, reforms to the nationally significant infrastructure (NSIP) regime have been on the cards for some time.
Echoing the 2020 National Infrastructure Strategy and the conclusions of the 2021 National Infrastructure Planning Reform Programme, the government announced on 23 February 2023 its NSIP Action Plan, which sets out its aspirations for a rebooted infrastructure consenting process.
Scroll down for a quick summary of the key proposals and the next steps.
What's the problem?
As we covered in our bulletins of September 2022 (here) and October 2022 (here) there is, without question, a pressing need to accelerate the delivery of major infrastructure projects and to expedite the consenting process.
Government (in all its various recent guises) agrees and, in its NSIP Action Plan, has laid out the reforms it proposes to implement in order to meet this need.
What's the fix?
The NSIP Action Plan identifies five key areas for reform:
- Setting a clear strategic direction for infrastructure planning – through reviewing the existing National Policy Statements and updating planning guidance.
- Operational reform to support a faster consenting process – through legislative change, the introduction of a new "fast track" consenting option, reforms to scheme changes, and enhancing the Planning Inspectorate's role.
- Realising better outcomes for the natural environment – through adopting the new Environmental Outcomes Reports process being established under the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, incorporating Biodiversity Net Gain requirements, reviewing policy and implementing a new Offshore Wind Environmental Improvement Package.
- Recognising the role of local communities and strengthening engagement – through incentivising early, constructive engagement on NSIPs to address impacts at an early stage and reduce the burden on all parties during the examination process.
- Improving capacity and resilience in the system – including through requiring infrastructure developers to contribute towards the costs of the Planning Inspectorate and statutory consultees.
Now the NSIP Action Plan has been published, government intends to consult "in the coming months" on its proposed measures to streamline the application process, including on the new fast track consenting option and proposals to move towards full cost recovery in the NSIP regime.
Given the wide-ranging and fundamental nature of some of the reforms being considered, stakeholders in the NSIP regime will wish to engage with the consultation process. In the meantime, keep an eye out for further news and analysis from us as the government moves forward with its reforms.
A copy of the NSIP Action Plan is available here.
Authored by David Wood