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Home / News and Insights / Blogs / Planning Act 2008 / 758: NIPA publishes detail v flexibility research

Today’s entry reports on the National Infrastructure Planning Association’s first piece of research.

The annual general meeting of the National Infrastructure Planning Association (NIPA) was on Monday, and the main event was the launch of its first ‘NIPA Insights Report’.

At the previous AGM expenditure was authorised on the topical question of what the tussle between detail being required in applications versus flexibility being allowed was doing on the ground. The exact question for the researchers was expressed thus:

‘Does the Planning Act process deliver the certainty and flexibility necessary to attract investment, permit innovation during the design and construction process and support cost effective infrastructure delivery – whilst providing appropriate protection for affected landowners and communities?’

After a competitive tender, University College London won the brief to carry out the research, led by Prof Janice Morphet and Dr Ben Clifford. Dr Clifford presented the results on Monday. You can access the research via the NIPA website, in three documents:

I recommend that you start with the NIPA report, but feel free to read all 294 pages. I like the image on the front of the report, of a crane trying to lower a block labelled ‘flexibility’ into a hole labelled ‘scheme delivery’ that is too small for it. This blog is cited over 20 times in the bibliography at the end of the Technical Report, so if you are a regular reader perhaps you only need to read the recommendations.

The research was based on factual information about the status of consented Development Consent Orders, two more detailed case studies (into the Galloper wind farm and the A14 highway project) and face-to-face interviews. There were also five larger meetings, one of which was a NIPA round table event.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence was of the status of the 50 consented DCOs (by November 2016), which was:

  • 7 had been completed (mainly highways and railways);
  • 13 were under construction (mainly highways and wind farms);
  • 11 had planned start dates;
  • 17 had no planned start dates; and
  • 2 had been cancelled (Blyth biomass and South Hook Combined Heat and Power).

See Appendix D on page 218 of the Technical Report for full details. The model for implementation seems to be Network Rail, all four of whose DCO projects are now operational.

On to the recommendations, of which there are 17. The NIPA Insights Report lists these starting on page 23, with NIPA’s response to each one. Here is my summary.

  • A1 and A2: deliverability, not just achieving development consent, should be built into National Policy Statements, government guidance and PINS advice. The NIPA response to the Airports National Policy Statement did ask for this but given that I have heard there were over 80,000 responses to it, this may get buried.
  • A3: there should be a statutory time limit for deciding non-material changes.
  • B1 and B2: on the contractual side, Early Contractor Involvement is a good idea, as is having the same project management all the way through from conception to operation.
  • C1-C4: if promoters want greater flexibility they are going to have to engage communities and local authorities more on justifying it.
  • D1: flexibility should be built into Environmental Statements or it can’t happen.
  • E1 and E2: DCOs should be better drafted to allow flexibility.
  • F1 and F2: there should be a focus on deliverability at the examination, not just consent.
  • G1-G3: best practice on flexibility should be shared amongst promoters, PINS and third parties.

NIPA now has the task of either implementing or persuading others to implement the recommendations depending where they are aimed, and also to come up with a new topic for research – all suggestions welcome.

The front-runner is probably help with how mitigation is secured in DCOs. There is a plethora of Construction Environmental Management Plans, Environmental Minimum Requirements, Codes of Construction Practice etc and every DCO so far has been slightly different. While differences are obviously necessary for certain projects or types of infrastructure, having a common starting-point that everyone understands in advance would be useful. There is a round table on the subject this evening and a slot at NIPA’s conference on 28 June.

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