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NSIP regime working – research

Words: Laura Edgar
Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon

New research suggests that the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime is delivering as intended, but the pre-application stage is unpredictable.

DCO: Friend or Foe? Does The Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects Regime Deliver ‘Fast-Track’ Consents? by Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners (NLP), also found that the average length of time taken to progress from initial consultation through to approval was around three years.

Except for Navitus Bay off the Bournemouth coast and Mynydd y Gwynt Onshore Wind Farm in Wales, 45 NSIPs have completed the process.

While the regime is overall “achieving its intended objectives” and is “proving itself to be an effective mechanism for delivering faster infrastructure decisions”, there is scope for improvement, says the report.

Statistics from DCO: Friend or Foe? Does the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects Regime Deliver ‘Fast-Track’ Consents?

104 NSIPs have engaged in the NSIP process since it came into force in 2008. Two-thirds of these are energy process schemes

64 Development Consent Orders have been submitted and accepted for examination to date

43 DCO applications have granted

2 DCO applications have been refused

16 months is the time within which more than half completed the pre-application stage.

It found that the main unknown relates to the pre-application stage. The time incurred at this stage ranges from seven months to four-and-a-half years in extreme cases.

“Delays in many cases have arisen due to the need (or desire) of the applicant to engage in multiple-stage consultation. So whilst applicants can look to the latter stage of the DCO process with more confidence and assurance, the pre-application phase is less predictable,” says the report.

Hugh Scanlon, senior director of the infrastructure team at NLP, said: “The conventional town and country planning process was criticised for taking too long for decisions to be reached on more complex national infrastructure schemes.

“The NSIP regime’s strong performance in delivering streamlined, fast-track decisions on complex infrastructure projects is highly commendable.

“It is therefore understandable that the government is open to further extending the powers of the regime to include wider forms of nationally significant development - related housing development being the latest.”

In October, the government said a maximum of 500 houses, based on geographic proximity or functional need, could be granted through a development consent order under the NSIP regime as part of an infrastructure project. This features as part of the Housing and Planning Bill currently going through Parliament.

NLP believes there is an appetite within the housing sector for this to be extended to allow larger schemes, including eco-towns, to use the NSIP regime in future.

Scanlon added: “No doubt this research, which highlights the strong performance of the NSIP process, will further entice developers in sectors that currently fall outside the scope of the process.”

Image credit | Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, a project approved under the NSIP regime