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Report: Too much detail in NSIP preparation a ‘significant concern’

Words: Laura Edgar
Consturction of infrastructure / iStock-519524474

Too much detail during the preparation, examination and specification stages of a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) was a ‘significant concern’.

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

Led by professor Janice Morphet and Dr Ben Clifford, the research team collated evidence and industry views about the level of detail required in assessment, application, examination and consent of NSIPs. This was compared with the impacts of current practice on the quality of the process for all stakeholders, the quality of the decision-making and the delivery of the resulting schemes.

NIPA asked the researchers to identify recommendations to support a move that ensured a balance between detail, the planning of an NSIP and their authorisation.

According to the research, there are situations where a focus on the details can be important, but “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”.

NIPA said this could restrict flexibility during the detailed design and delivery processes that follow, with adverse consequences for the effective delivery of nationally significant infrastructure as well as the quality.

The report says what matters is that the level of detail assessed through examination and specified in the development consent order (DCO) “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”.

Steve Norris, NIPA council chairman, said: “This important piece of research examines how the planning process for NSIPs can be developed further to support more effective delivery and better project outcomes – while protecting the interests of those affected by them.

“We are keen to work with government and other partners to follow up its recommendations.”

Recommendations in the report include:

  • National policy statements (NPS) should address deliverability: Tackling deliverability upfront in an NPS would set the right direction and ensures appropriate consideration of the need for flexibility during scheme preparation, examination and delivery in practice.
  • Guidance and advice in flexibility and deliverability is needed: Relevant advice should be drawn together in one place, with the role of flexibility clearly specified in relation to each stage of the process including pre-application, examination, DCO drafting and in the discharge of requirements.
  • Promoters and their advisers should consider their approach to environmental assessment and the potential outcome of that assessment for achieving flexibility in the DCO.
  • DCO drafting needs to better address flexibility for deliverability.
  • Promoters should engage with statutory consultees earlier in the pre-application phase.

NIPA’s summary of the research and a full, detailed list of the recommendations can be found on the NIPA website (pdf).

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