New report highlights barriers to effective infrastructure delivery

The planning process for major infrastructure projects is often too detailed and there needs to be more focus on flexibility and delivery, according to new research undertaken by University College London on behalf of the National Infrastructure Planning Association, (NIPA).

The research was aimed at providing evidence about barriers to effective infrastructure delivery in the planning process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) and making recommendations for improvement. The research concludes that there is no silver bullet, but that there is scope to create a greater focus on deliverability at all stages of the process; and to ensure that project delivery, not development consent, is seen as the key objective.

In September 2016, the National Infrastructure Planning Association, (NIPA), commissioned a team from the Bartlett School of Planning at the University College London to undertake research into the extent and impact of the level of detail in the authorisation process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, (NSIPs).

The research team was asked to collate evidence and industry views about the level of detail required in assessment, application, examination and consent of NSIPs; versus the impacts of current practice on the quality of the process for all stakeholders, on the quality of decision-making, and on the quality and delivery of resultant schemes.

The team was also asked to identify practical recommendations to support a move towards an optimum balance between detail, flexibility, process, decision-making and project outcomes for the planning and authorisation of NSIPs. NIPA's AGM on 5 June 2017 launched the research findings and endorsed the recommendations and programme for action intended to take this work further forward. 

The research found that there are situations where a focus on the detail can be important, but that there are circumstances where there is too much detail in the authorisation process for NSIPs, and that this can have detrimental effects in terms of project delivery. In particular, it can restrict flexibility during the detailed design and delivery processes that follow, with adverse consequences for the effective delivery of nationally significant infrastructure, and the quality of the outcomes that they are expected to deliver. 

The report suggests that “what matters is that the level of detail assessed through examination and specified in the Development Consent Order itself needs to be carefully balanced against the potential need for flexibility to meet the particular circumstances of the project at the delivery stage, whilst ensuring that the interests of stakeholders and local communities are protected.”

The research will provide useful insights into the planning and delivery of NSIPs, and the recommendations (presented as being an ‘aggregation of marginal gains’ in the style of British Cycling’s approach to improvement), provide a wide range of progressive proposals for enhancing the planning, authorisation and delivery of NSIPs. NIPA is keen to work with government and other partners in helping to deliver this, to the benefit of the projects, stakeholders, and society.

Steve Norris, NIPA council chairman said: “NIPA is committed to the continuous improvement of the planning process for national infrastructure. This important piece of research examines how the planning process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure projects can be developed further to support more effective delivery and better project outcomes, whilst protecting the interests of those affected by them. The research team is to be congratulated on a thorough and valuable piece of work. We are keen to work with government and other partners to follow up its recommendations.”

Click here to read NIPA's summary of the research, together with two reports from the UCL

If you would like to contact Andy Walker about this, or any other story, please email