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Consultation on Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) reforms


The UK has an urgent need to develop its energy, port and rail infrastructure over the coming years, and many of the biggest of these projects will be consented as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) under the Development Consent Order regime. The government has had a look at how long this process takes in the UK, and what needs to be achieved in the coming years, and is rightly raising questions about how to speed up the consenting regime.

Take energy for example. At the moment, the UK has around 14GW installed offshore wind capacity.[1] 10 years ago, in 2013, it was 3.7GW. The government’s target is for 50GW to be installed by 2030. Reaching that will require 36GW to be installed in the next 6 years, compared to 10GW in the last decade. Even unshakeable optimists would refer to that as a challenge.

It should be no surprise then that the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), the executive agency responsible for providing the government with expert infrastructure advice, has recently criticised the NSIP process and highlighted the lack of progress being made towards the UK’s infrastructure ambitions.

One major challenge for achieving the government is that as demands on the system have increased, its speed has slowed. As the government itself acknowledges, improved flexibility and resilience of the system to handle the increasing pipeline of energy and infrastructure projects are “essential to national growth and security”. The government has committed to bringing forward reforms and is currently holding a consultation, open until 19 September, focusing on key operational changes that are intended to make the system work more effectively for applicants, local authorities and communities. These proposals include:

  • strengthening the role of pre-application and ensuring consultation is effective and proportionate
  • operational reforms to support faster and more proportionate examinations
  • establishing a fast-track route to consent
  • streamlining the process for post consent changes to a development consent order
  • updating national infrastructure planning guidance
  • ensuring the system is adequately resourced through:
    • resourcing the Planning Inspectorate and updating existing fees
    • strengthening performance of government’s expert bodies
    • improving engagement with local authorities and communities
    • building the skills needed to support infrastructure delivery.

The government hopes to pilot the new first track consenting process from September 2023, testing key aspects of the reforms on several projects from different sectors. The consultation states that the responses to this consultation will help shape that process and, subject to those responses, government will introduce secondary legislation needed to implement the required change to the system.

The results of the consultation will be something to watch out for this autumn: speeding up the consenting process should be a good step forwards, and both applicants and objectors will want to be aware of the changes to make sure they’re fully up-to-date with the new process.


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