Out-Law News 2 min. read

UK government publishes response to consultation on NSIP reforms

A response to a UK government consultation on improvement to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) system and upcoming regulatory changes could make a tangible difference to developer’s and other experiences of the regime, an expert has said.

The recently announced response will soon be followed up with changes to guidance and regulations that will make improvements to the regime a reality. It follows the publication of the NSIP reform action plan in February which set out five proposed reforms with the recent response setting out aims of make the consenting process better, faster, greener, fairer, and more resilient by 2025.

The government has recognised the need for new and improved infrastructure to realise energy security, improve environmental outcomes to support the net zero agenda, and deliver the transport connectivity, water, wastewater, and waste infrastructure required across the UK

The plan includes setting a clear strategic direction, where national policy statements and wider government policy reduce the ambiguity faced by individual projects. Operational reform will also work to support a faster consenting process while recognising the role of local communities and strengthening engagement with developers. The changes aim to build a more diverse and resilient resourcing model and enable a regime that is able to deal with cumulative impacts, particularly in offshore wind and the electricity grid sector that require strategic solutions outside the remit of individual projects.

Matthew Fox, energy and infrastructure planning expert at Pinsent Masons, said “The changes should make the NSIP regime more efficient, effective and proactive to the circumstances of each case, rather than developers being stuck with a rigid set of inflexible rules.”

The current reporting process under the Planning Act 2008 (262 pages / 9.5 MB) is the route to consent for many of the UK’s large infrastructure projects. However, the demands on the system are changing. The speed has slowed, and the volume and complexity in the pipeline are increasing.

Proposed changes to the pre-application guidance will help provide greater clarity on consultation strategies. Furtherer, to make the Examination process more efficient, detailed representations will be encouraged to be submitted from the start, rather than part way through Examination. The changes are also set to improve flexibility around how hearings are notified meaning that they will be used more effectively, rather than just being held when it is “the normal thing to do.”

The response sets out aims to improve system-wide capacity and capability, including through developing skills and training and providing greater support to effective preparation and examination of development consent order applications.

“Developers will need to be well advised to ensure that they are able to take advantage of the “fast-track” examination system proposed, with forthcoming “prospectus” to hopefully provide clarity on the quality standard that applications will need to meet,” Fox added.

The response also indicates that developers will need to “get their digital cheque books out,” Fox added, as it includes allowance for increases to fees payable to the Planning Inspectorate during application processes and the ability for key statutory environmental bodies to charge, however this will need to result in the right level of resource and active meaningful engagement and advice being provided.

The upcoming updates to guidance and relevant regulations is expect in the next one or two months.

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