NIC welcomes government moves to speed up planning process

Government says major infrastructure projects will be delivered more quickly through a new fast-track planning route. (Image by Sven Mieke on Unsplash).

Moves by government to speed up planning routes on major infrastructure projects have been welcomed by the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) and the National Infrastructure Commission.

Major infrastructure projects such as road improvements and offshore wind farms will be delivered more quickly through a new fast-track planning route, announced by the secretary of state for levelling up Greg Clark.

New powers will mean shorter deadlines can be set for examinations of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects – speeding up decisions and getting projects built more quickly. 

The relevant secretary of state – for example for energy, transport, environment or levelling up – will decide whether to put the shorter deadline in place.

This also means decisions on smaller (non-material) changes to projects that have already been approved can be made much more quickly – currently these can take up to 16 months, sometimes causing significant delays to delivery.

Levelling up secretary Greg Clark said: “Particularly in a time of high inflation, things need to be done more quickly or costs of major infrastructure projects will rise. These changes will help deliver new infrastructure more quickly, by speeding up the planning process which often moves too slowly.”

The government will make the changes to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects process through amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

Stephen Marcos Jones, ACE CEO, welcomed the moves. He said: “This week’s announcement comes at the right moment. Anything which brings additional clarity and speed to a lengthy planning process around significant infrastructure should be warmly welcomed. A swifter planning process will ensure that environmental, social and economic benefits are realised sooner.

"This is also important if infrastructure investment is to realise its full potential in supporting the economy through the increasingly challenging times ahead. We look forward to engaging with the government on the action plan and supporting its implementation soon.”

NIC chair Sir John Armitt also welcomed the news, but said this did not negate the need for local community engagement or for detailed work on scoping and design – and that government must publish up-to-date national statements on strategic priorities for key infrastructure sectors.

He said: "The challenges of boosting our resilience to energy and water supply issues has been thrown into sharp relief in recent weeks, and it makes sense to seek a faster consenting route for key projects that serve in the national interest. However, these changes must be accompanied by the publication of up-to-date national statements that set out government’s strategic priorities for our key infrastructure sectors.”

The government announcement is part of plans to speed up the planning process for large-scale projects and builds on efforts in the government’s Energy Security Strategy to make sure the country is building the infrastructure it needs faster than before.

Councils and local communities will continue to play a key role in the planning process, including by producing local impact reports that represent the views of residents and must be taken into account.

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