Major infrastructure projects such as new transport links, offshore wind farms and waste water management facilities could be delivered faster under a new action plan published by the UK government.
Ministers say the measures set out in the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) action plan will streamline the planning process for large-scale infrastructure projects, speeding up building to support economic growth, improve connectivity across the country, bolster energy security for the future and deliver net zero.
A new fast track process will be piloted, with powers for the Secretary of State to set shorter timelines for certain projects.
The changes also include increasing community engagement and making environmental protections more effective.
Departments responsible for NSIPs – Department for Transport, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Department for Energy Security and Net Zero – will shortly make announcements on their National Policy Statements which help to set the future direction for infrastructure.
Lee Rowley, local government minister, said: “We are determined to level up communities, spread opportunity and drive economic growth across the country. For us to meet our goals, it is vital we have the right infrastructure in place now and for the future.
“The plan we have published today demonstrates the commitment across government to ensuring the planning system supports us to improve our energy security and deliver the major transport links and essential facilities this country needs to thrive.”
Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects are large-scale projects related to energy; transport; water; waste water and waste, which are of national importance and go through a separate planning process to other infrastructure projects.
Between 2012 and 2021 there was a 65% increase in the time it took for projects to go through the NSIP process and the action plan aims to tackle this.
Ministers claim the new plan will deliver economic growth – one of the prime minister’s five priorities – by improving connectivity and transport links and generating home-grown energy. This will help to create new jobs, improve opportunities for people in communities across the country and boost local economies.
The changes in the action plan include:
- Reviewing and updating National Policy Statements (NPSs) more regularly to make sure they clearly set direction which enables more robust decision making. The government has already asked the National Infrastructure Commission to make recommendations on how the process to renew NPSs can be strengthened and improved.
- Speeding up the application process by streamlining regulations and updating guidance to make sure it is proportionate and piloting a new fast track process with powers for the Secretary of State to set shorter timelines for certain projects.
- Reforming environmental regulations around new development and introducing the Environmental Outcomes Report – a new approach that will make environmental protections more effective, reduce bureaucracy and focus on the outcome of development. The action plan will also make sure that the NSIP process is aligned with the government’s wider environmental goals, such as reaching Net Zero.
- Strengthening community engagement through more support and knowledge sharing between local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate. The use of Planning Performance Agreements will also be revised to be more effective. This will ensure the role local areas play in delivering new projects is increasingly recognised.
- Measures to help infrastructure developers get the early expertise they need, including powers for certain experts consulted during the process to recover full costs for services.
Guto Davies, head of policy at the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), welcomed the news.
Writing a blog for Infrastructure Intelligence, he said: “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.
“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.”
Ministers say the government is committed to speeding up the delivery of critical infrastructure and improving the consenting process for all projects entering the system. Under the plans for a new fast track route planning route, the Secretary of the State will have new powers to decide whether to put shorter deadlines in place to examine certain projects.
The government last week also asked the National Infrastructure Commission to provide recommendations on the future of National Policy Statements and how the role of these important documents play can be strengthened and improved.