Review on speeding up megaproject planning announced

The government has asked the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) to identify how the planning system could be changed to speed up the delivery of major infrastructure projects.

The NIC will review the current approach to National Policy Statements – part of the Planning Act – to identify how the system could work better.

National Policy Statements need to be produced with major infrastructure projects to explain the reasons for policies relating to the developments and the government’s objectives for them. They are subject to amendments every five years, which is one of the issues to be reviewed by the commission.

The announcement of the review follows a call last week from the House of Lords Built Environment Committee to change national planning rules to avoid project delays.

It noted that an infrastructure planning application entered in 2012 would typically receive a decision within 17 months – but by 2020, the average wait had risen to 22 months. In its request to the NIC to begin the review, the government noted that statistic, highlighting that it can take up to four years for offshore wind projects to receive development consent orders.

The commission will publish a report later this year setting out recommendations for what could be done to address the speed of consent, to help deliver major infrastructure projects. It will set out proposed short- and longer-term actions that build on other reforms, drawing on insights from its engagement with infrastructure operators, investors and representative bodies.

The study will not consider housing or business and commercial projects, which sit outside of the commission’s remit, and recommendations will only cover England due to the devolved nature of planning.

An action plan is also set to be produced by the government on these issues.

The review was announced a week after the Law Commission published plans to revisit how compulsory purchase orders are operated, with a view to speeding up the process.

The Law Commission was asked by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to review the current law on compulsory purchase, to ensure that it supports critical infrastructure needs and delivers for local communities.

In September, the then chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng cited an increase in the length of time that development consent orders took to obtain when he announced plans to amend the law to speed up planning permission for major projects. The Treasury said in October that the idea had not been dropped by Kwarteng’s successor, Jeremy Hunt, although the law has not yet been amended.

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