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The Government’s NSIP Action Plan: Reform Area 1 – Setting a clear strategic direction for infrastructure planning

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What is the NSIP Action Plan?

On 23 February 2023, the Government published an Action Plan to reform the consenting process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs). This follows its stated ambitions in the National Infrastructure Strategy (November 2020) and the British Energy Security Strategy (April 2022) to make the process better, faster, greener, fairer and more resilient.

The Action Plan identifies five ‘reform areas’ that will help it achieve its aims:

  1. Setting a clear strategic direction for infrastructure planning;
  2. Operational reform to support a faster consenting process;
  3. Realising better outcomes for the natural environment;
  4. Recognising the role of local communities and strengthening engagement; and
  5. System capability – building a more diverse and resilient resourcing model.

This blog will investigate ‘Reform Area 1: Setting a clear strategic direction for infrastructure planning’.

Problems with the current strategic direction

National Policy Statements (NPSs) are the Government’s published policy framework for decision-making in respect of applications for NSIPs. They identify the UK’s infrastructure needs in certain different sectors (e.g., ports or energy) and discuss the balance of those needs against possible environmental, community and safety impacts.

However, the Government has concluded from responses to the call for evidence that the NPSs can in practice be ambiguous and greater clarity is required to give certainty to infrastructure investors and developers, as well as affected communities.

Proposed solutions and timescales

The Government proposes to review existing NPSs to ensure that they are clear and up to date. It will also update its internal guidance on preparing NPSs and undertake NPS reviews. Finally, it has instructed the National Infrastructure Commission to study the role of NPSs and make recommendations on how they can be improved, reviewed more regularly, and consolidated.

Initial steps that the Government is taking include:

  • Introducing a new NPS for Water Resources by Q1 2023
  • Reviewing and updating the following NPSs for the energy sector, by Q2 2023:
    EN-1: Overarching NPS for Energy
    EN-2: NPS for Natural Gas Electricity Generating Infrastructure
    EN-3: NPS for Renewable Energy Infrastructure
    EN-4: NPS for Gas Supply Infrastructure and Gas and Oil Pipelines
    EN-5: NPS for Electricity Networks Infrastructure
  • Making further Energy NPSs:
    Replacing the NPS for Nuclear Power Generation (EN-6) with a new NPS (EN-7) that also covers smaller reactors, by 2025
    Introducing a new NPS for nuclear fusion in due course
  • Reviewing the Department for Transport’s National Networks NPS (2015), by 2023

Why is this important?

Having clarity in NPSs is significant as they inform the decision-making process in respect of NSIPs and, in addition ought to engage with the public and key policies relating to safety and the environment. Under the Planning Act 2008, and except in certain circumstances, the relevant Secretary of State making the decision as to whether to grant development consent for an NSIP must determine the application in accordance with any relevant NPS. Therefore, it is important that promoters of infrastructure schemes, their advisors and affected stakeholders are aware of any changes introduced to NPSs as a result of this review.

This is the first of a series of blogs looking at the five reform areas identified by the Action Plan. Come back here or follow us on Linkedin or Twitter to keep up with our future posts.

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