Government proposes new guidance on major infrastructure planning

Out-Law News | 17 Apr 2012 | 9:11 am | 1 min. read

The Government is seeking views on changes to six guidance documents relating to the planning regime for major infrastructure projects.

A consultation (17-page / 156KB PDF) by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) proposes new guidance on pre-application procedures, as well as updating five further guides. The consultation follows changes to the development consent regime for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) set out in the Localism Act.

These changes came into force on 1 April with the abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) and the transfer of responsibility for decision making to the Secretary of State on the recommendation of the Planning Inspectorate.

The new draft Guidance on the Pre-Application Process merges  existing guidance for local authorities and developers. It expands the coverage to include environmental impact assessment (EIA) and advice on drafting development consent orders (DCOs). It also contains advice on consultation process for offshore developments and the so-called 'Rochdale Envelope', which allows the developers to include a series of maximum criteria against which a project  may be assessed.

The draft guidance specifies that applications for a DCO may include alternative or varied proposals. The consultation does state, however, that "options should only be included in exceptional cases where, following full public consultation and environmental assessment, the alternative options are either finely balanced or public opinion is polarised". .

NSIPs are major infrastructure projects defined and determined in accordance with provisions in the Planning Act. Typically, they include new power plants, large renewable energy projects,  major road projects, waste and water schemes.

Planning and infrastructure law expert Richard Griffiths of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, said that the abolition of the IPC had given the Government the chance to introduce some "much-needed clarity and flexibility" to aspects of the NSIP and DCO process. “[This is] something which the CBI identified as important in its paper 'Minor Measures, major results: Fine-tuning the major infrastructure planning system'.”

"Of particular interest to promoters is the clarification that alternative proposals may be submitted within the same DCO application," he said. "This could result in DCO applications being submitted more quickly, as promoters will not have to wait for scheme lock-down since this flexibility will effectively enable promoters to pursue alternatives provided that they have been through consultation and an environmental impact assessment."

Business body the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) called for the Government to fine tune the system to spur on much-needed new infrastructure,  and simplify the non-planning consent landscape and reduce uncertainty at the pre-application stage in its March 2012 report (8-page / 2.2MB PDF) published last month.