the Government’s Action Plan for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) to reform and improve the planning process and the subsequent recommendations received by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).
By way of summary, the Governments five reform areas are:
- Setting a clear strategic direction for infrastructure planning;
- Operational reform to support a faster consenting process;
- Realising better outcomes for the natural environment;
- Recognising the role of local communities and strengthening engagement; and
- System capability.
The NIC recommendations do largely mirror these reform areas, suggesting (among others):
- Five yearly reviews of National Policy Statements for Energy, Water Resources and National Networks;
- Bringing onshore wind development into the NSIP regime;
- Environmental data sharing by Defra;
- Mitigation “libraries” for the historic and natural environment for different types of infrastructure;
- Development of frameworks for direct benefits for local communities in relation to NSIPs;
- Central coordination and oversight mechanisms to be developed; and
- Performance indicators for statutory consultees operating under cost recovery models.
While there is a clear intention from the Government (which is supported across the sector) to reform the NSIP regime, questions remain as to whether what is currently proposed will go far enough to resolve the issues relating to delays in the application process (and the process for non-material and material changes post-grant of DCO), unwieldy application processes, and subsequent legal challenge.
On 23 February 2023 the Government published its Action Plan for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects setting out its ambitions to reform and improve the planning process. Since then, the National Infrastructure Commission has reported its recommendations on NSIP reform, the revised National Policy Statement for water resources infrastructure has been published and a further round of consultation on the revised Energy NPSs has also been announced. Steps to reform are still in their infancy, however, the Government has signalled a clear intention to review the problems with the current system and make appropriate changes.