The UK government has published its action plan for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP), with a view to speed up delivery of major infrastructure projects, support economic growth, improve connectivity, bolster energy security and deliver net zero.
The action plan is an important milestone, following the creation of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. It is also a timely announcement as we prepare for the budget statement on 15 March.
The plan also comes following the launch of a new report by the Built Environment Committee on the impact of environmental regulations on development and infrastructure – and builds on previous commitments to deliver infrastructure projects quickly, including ‘Project Speed’ under the Johnson administration, and under Liz Truss when she announced 100 projects in advance of the ‘mini budget’.
Whilst the plan lays out the ambition, the vital next steps are outlined in the series of ‘Actions’, many of which will be of interest to members at the EIC, as well as the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC).
With our three-year blueprint in mind, we’ll be working with government departments to ensure innovation and excellence all form part of the NSIP regime.
Incorporate Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) requirements for all (terrestrial) NSIP projects from November 2025.
Our Nature & Biodiversity Taskforce at EIC has been working with departments on BNG for some time. Members are already working hard to incorporate these principles into their projects, and it’s right that government take this approach as part of the NSIP action plan.
Careful consideration will need to be given to regional implementation, which is already being highlighted by the sector as an opportunity.
Establish a new ‘fast-track’ consenting timeframe option for projects that meet quality standards.
We welcome the opportunity to pilot key aspects of the reforms on several projects, and the sector is ready to suggest suitable projects through the ‘early adopter and pilots’ programme.
Establish a new Environmental Outcomes Report
With any amendments to regulations, maintaining high standards is paramount. So whilst we broadly welcome attempts to streamline assessments and modernise the approach to include new principles, we will work with DLUHC and Defra to ensure continued effective management of our natural resources.
Continue to support local authority engagement through the Local Authority Innovation and Capacity fund (I&C).
With innovation a key theme in our three-year blueprint, we support ambitions to drive up the use of innovation in the delivery of infrastructure. It’s why, as part of our 2023 Policy Manifesto, we’ve called on government to encourage use of co-investment between public and private sector to grow investment in projects.
But it’s also why, to drive social value and placemaking, we need to encourage engagement with the sector to develop new mechanisms to allow groups of authorities in different parts of the country to share resources, take advantage of economies of scale and share learning.
The final important area, but missing from the action plan currently, is the approach to post-project evaluation of infrastructure projects.
Government should assess the relative successes or failures, particularly in light of this new proposed approach. That’s why our 2023 Policy Manifesto calls for a ‘lessons learnt’ report, ideally led by the IPA, to assess major infrastructure projects and their delivery.
EIC and ACE looks forward to working collaboratively with government departments on the next steps for this action plan.
Guto Davies is head of policy at the Environmental Industries Commission.