Planning boost for climate-focused transport schemes

Major changes to a key planning document could help clients push through road and rail projects designed with climate change in mind.

Proposed alterations to the national networks national policy statement (NNNPS) recognise the need to reduce transport infrastructure’s impact on the environment – and to boost its resilience to extreme weather.

National policy statements are used by secretaries of state when ruling on planning applications for significant schemes. The NNNPS, which governs road and rail development, was last updated eight years ago.

A draft rewrite of the guidance has now been published by the Department for Transport and put out to consultation.

One new passage states that resilience measures “including maintenance and adaptation of the network and further development” will be “critical” to future-proof against the impact of climate change.

This compares with the present iteration’s passing mention that “in some cases there may be a need for development to improve resilience on the networks to adapt to climate change”.

Elsewhere, the draft spells out where infrastructure interventions may be required to secure certain climate-related outcomes, such as “contributing to [the] net-zero target through… electrification of rail; improvements to air quality through reductions in congestion; or localised environmental improvements to cultural heritage, landscape or biodiversity”.

The existing statement is less punchy. “Development will be needed to address safety problems, enhance the environment or enhance accessibility for non-motorised users,” says one passage.

Consultation on the proposed amendments will close on 6 June.

Transport minister Richard Holden said: “Transport has a vital role to play in levelling up our country, connecting people with good jobs and education opportunities across our cities, town and villages, and in growing the economy.

“This new framework is part of our mission to build a more sustainable transport system which protects our wonderful English countryside and wildlife while delivering opportunity by levelling up our transport network across the country.”

Civil Engineering Contractors Association chief executive Alasdair Reisner said planning was an “important issue” and the body would respond to the consultation in due course.

Its members were keen to support ministers to “streamline planning while maintaining democratic consent for the work they do, and protecting the environment,” he added.

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