Town Planning: Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects

Town Planning: Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects

The Planning Act 2008 (the Act) introduced into the UK planning system the concept of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, commonly referred to as NSIPs.

This Client Advice Note provides an introduction to NSIPs and highlights how the Town Planning team at Stride Treglown can provide support. The team have direct experience of this system from both the perspective of Government and providing consulting advice to private clients.

What is an NSIP?

An NSIP is a project which makes a contribution or has the potential for an impact at a larger than local scale. Projects cover a range of types, including:

  • Energy generation (50MW on / 100MW offshore);
  • Electricity transmission;
  • Transport projects including road, rail, harbours and airports;
  • Water projects including waste water and clean water transfer;
  • Hazardous waste;
  • Major Commercial and Industrial schemes, including offices, manufacturing and conferencing facilities and leisure, tourism, sport and recreation development.
  • The scale is what makes a project an NSIP and the thresholds are set out in the Act. For office development, this must be over 40,000m2 gross internal floorspace and for leisure use, the development must exceed 100ha. We can advise on whether your scheme may be an NSIP or not.

Any project that passes over the threshold must follow the NSIP route. Therefore, early understanding of the system is essential for all developers, particularly those who might initially not consider their scheme to be engage the NSIP process. This might be the case for example where a housing or office development proposes works to the trunk road network. We can provide early advice during project inception in order to ensure compliance.

Principles of the System

One of the key driving forces behind the introduction of the new system was to ensure that projects were fully prepared ahead of their submission to ensure they could be determined within a much shorter time frame. To achieve this, the Act established a series of principles as being critical to delivery.

Front Loading

The Act places significant weight on the pre-application stage, requiring a project to be significantly defined in terms of its location, form and function and with the potential impacts assessed and consulted upon prior to an application being submitted.

This principle is key to ensuring postive engagemen along with timely examination and decision making.

Engagement

Environmental assessment is a key activity at pre-application and in order to undertake this work there is a requirement to engage and consult with key stakeholders, including the likes of Natural England and the Environment Agency to ensure that all issues are considered and accounted for.

Engagement with local people, businesses and potentially affected people is also required.

The scope of all consultation is set out in the Act, demonstrating how central this is to the preparation of an application.

Single Consenting

A key aspect of the move to a faster consenting process was the introduction of the principle of a ‘single consent’.

This allows a developer to ensure that they can have all permissions (for example Marine Licences or European Protected Species licences) wrapped up and considered in a single application.

This principle links very closely with that of engagement as it is essential that a developer discusses aspects of each consent with the relevant body before the application is submitted.

What is the Process?

The process is prescribed and broadly can be summarised as follows and with the time for each stage in brackets:

NSIP Process: Pre-application (c.12-24 months but varies –we can advise on strategy) -> Submission and Validation (28 days) -> Pre-examination (generally c.3 months) -> Examination (maximum of 6 months) -> Recommendation (maximum of 3 months) -> Secretary of State Decision (maximum of 3 months)

Stride Treglown Opinion

Aims of the System
The aim of the NSIP system is fundamentally one of ensuring that infrastructure is delivered in a much shorter time frame and with more certainty for all parties. At this time, it is not conclusive whether these aims have been met.

It is however true that the decision-making period is shorter, primarily as the timings are prescribed in legislation. It is the norm for a project to be determined within 15 months of submission. However, most projects will have spent at least 18 months prior to this in the pre-application stage with others significantly longer, dependent on their complexity.

With regard to certainty, as with any decision which has a political element to it (i.e. almost all planning decisions), there is no certainty. However, with a system which is now very structured (consultation and impact assessment), it is certainly true that project promoters can have faith that, by following guidance and the Natiaonl Policy Statements they can significantly reduce the risks of a potential refusal.

The System to Date
Despite a slow start, 20 projects have now passed completely through the system (with a number on site) and in total over 100 projects have been registered as having entered the system.

Significant projects to have secured consent include a number of offshore wind farms, Hinkley Point C new nuclear build and a number of road and rail improvement schemes. Energy and transport schemes are the majority to date which is logical given the UK’s clear need to meet the forthcoming energy gap and to improve transport ageing infrastructure.

The Act has also been amended with Commercial and Industrial schemes now able to be classified as an NSIP, subject to a Direction from the Secretary of State. This allows potential for a range of new projects to benefit from the NSIP process, although at this stage any project with a housing element is not allowed.

Our Experience
Our Town Planning team prides itself on keeping abreast of developments within the planning system and this includes tracking progress of the NSIP system.

The team is able to draw on direct and relevant experience of the system. Mike Harris has significant experience of working for the Planning Inspectorate and Infrastructure Planning Commission advising project developers and other parties on how to navigate the system.

Prior to joining Stride Treglown, Mike spent 18 months advising private clients on a range of issues, including strategic project planning of the pre-application and pre-examination stages, developing policy positions and drafting Planning Statements along with undertaking detailed policy and socio-economic appraisal work to support the refinement of project scope and development options.

The Opportunities
If a project crosses the threshold set out in the Act, there is no choice but to follow the NSIP process. In these instances, Stride Treglown can provide discreet advice on strategy, deliver individual workstreams (for example drafting a Planning Statement) or join a wider project team and coordinate application and EIA preparation.

In other cases, particularly the recently created Commercial and Industrial project sector, we can advise you on whether the NSIP process is appropriate for your project.

The decision of whether or not to apply to the Secretary of State for a Firection that a project is an NSIP is an important one. It will be necessary to understand the local context, both politically and from a policy perspective, consider the level of support or opposition to proposals, the complexity of environmental issues and whether there is a need for compulsory acquisition. We can provide support to review this and work with you to develop a strategic approach.

Stride Treglown

If you have any queries about any of the matters contained within this client advice note or would like further advice on the process for NSIPs please contact Stride Treglown’s Planning team, who will be able to advise you accordingly.

We have taken great care to ensure the accuracy of this advice note. However, the document is written in general terms and you are strongly recommended to seek specific advice before taking any action based on the information it contains. No responsibility can be taken for any loss arising from action taken or refrained from on the basis of this publication. The contents of this advice note are not intended to comprise definitive statements, but rather offer the opinion of Stride Treglown and provide general guidance on planning issues.