After tabling sweeping reforms to the planning system in the Leveling and Regeneration Bill (see related publications), the government has focused on speeding up the consent regime for major infrastructure projects (NSIP) under the Planning Act 2008.
A guidance document released August 30, 2022 outlines how the government intends to accelerate the fast track by reducing review times, enabling faster post-consent changes to Development Consent Orders (DCOs) and addressing capacity issues in government agencies providing technical advice on DCO requests. .
The powers will be introduced by making changes to the bill in time for debate at Commons committee stage when the bill is passed by Parliament.
Scroll down for a quick summary of the main proposals.
What’s on offer?
In its National Infrastructure Strategy 2020, the government announced its intention to reduce consent periods for certain NSIPs by up to 50% from 2023.
This week’s guidance document outlines three proposed changes to the NSIP consent regime designed to help achieve this ambitious goal:
1. Accelerated Consents
Amendments to the bill will give the relevant secretary of state the power to reduce the statutory time limits for a DCO review from the standard six months. We are told the government will consult on the quality criteria, underlying regulations and policy changes later in 2022 – until then the workings of the proposed changes remain unclear.
2. Faster post-consent changes
The complexity and time-consuming nature of changes to DCOs are a recurring frustration for developers and stakeholders. The government acknowledges this with the policy statement expressing frustration that non-material changes to CODs can take up to 16 months to be determined, resulting in significant delays in delivery. To that end, the government is proposing changes to enable it to develop and test an accelerated approach to changes, including the introduction of regulatory time limits, which the current process does not have.
3. Billing for expert opinion
Identifying that a lack of capacity in key statutory agencies that provide technical advice on DCO applications is also causing delays, the government is proposing to allow these agencies to charge developers for their services. A consultation on the proposed approach for the implementation of the pricing frameworks is promised later in 2022.
A potential game changer?
On the face of it, the reforms proposed by the government have real potential to speed up decisions on DCO applications, reduce the burden of changing consents and ensure that statutory bodies have sufficient resources.
However, like many of the reforms promised in the first draft of the bill, there needs to be meat on the bones of these high-level proposals. We do not yet have details on the criteria or thresholds for determining which DCO applications will be eligible for an abbreviated review process or any details on the fast-track approach to regime changes.
Despite all the talk about condensed review schedules, it should be noted that decisions on a number of recent NSIP applications have been delayed by the relevant Secretary of State at the decision-making stage, extending the decision-making well beyond the allotted three months. To reduce delays and ensure the security of the NSIP regime, it is important that in addition to expediting the passage of applications through the review period, the government directs its attention closer to the country.
We look forward to the draft amendments to the bill and the consultation, the underlying regulations and changes to the guidelines.