UK: Publish Full Suite Of National Policy Statements

Last Updated: 22 March 2012
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry compares the original and current programme of National Policy Statements.

Before what is likely to be a busy day on Wednesday, this is the fourth in a series of blog entries as we move towards the abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) on 1 April. It suggests that the originally intended suite of National Policy Statements should be continued with.

National Policy Statements (NPSs) are one of the cornerstones of the Planning Act regime. Although they are not intended to be expressions of new policy, for the first time they contain a convenient statement of the need for infrastructure and the impacts that should be mitigated by project promoters and assessed by the IPC or its successor the Planning Inspectorate when applications are made. The crucial test of whether to grant an application requires weighing the need against the mitigated impacts, and permission is to be refused if the latter outweigh the former (plus any other benefits).

When the previous government brought in the Planning Act 2008, it envisaged that there would be 12 NPSs: six on energy, three on transport and one each on water, waste and waste water. It is over three years later and we still only have seven NPSs, with two more available in draft.

Six of the seven NPSs are the six originally-envisaged energy ones, and although they took considerably longer than planned to be adopted ('designated'), this finally happened in July 2011. The picture for water, waste and waste water is less advanced, and transport more or less brings up the rear.

Water, waste and waste water

Two out of three of these have at least been published: waste water and hazardous waste. The first is having a debate in the House of Commons today and should be designated by the end of the month. The second is awaiting the publication of a final draft with a possible debate to follow.

What about the water supply NPS? In December 2010 a 'major infrastructure planning reform work plan' stated 'The need for a water supply national policy statement will be considered once the final water resources management plans have been published (likely to be early in 2011).' It also has a so far unimplemented action 'The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will announce whether a Water Supply National Policy Statement is needed, in early 2011'.

In fact according to the Environment Agency three water companies have not yet published final plans: Thames Water, Dee Valley Water and Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water. The second and third of these operate mostly in Wales and the Planning Act regime does not cover water projects in Wales, but the companies do both cover parts of England as well so are relevant.

The implication of the work plan statement is that if the WRMPs don't have any projects covered by the Planning Act regime in them, then there will not be a National Policy Statement since there will be no need for one. It is certainly true that there are no water projects of the two types covered by the Planning Act regime (dams/reservoirs and transfer of water resources) on the IPC list of live and forthcoming projects.

Transport

The good news for transport is that one of its three NPSs has been designated - the Ports NPS, albeit after an even longer delay than the energy NPSs. The not so good news is that there is no sign of the other two - National Networks (i.e. roads, railways and strategic rail freight interchanges (SRFIs)) or Airports.

The situation with the NNNPS is that it has been due since around November 2009, and has been 'imminent' for about four months. It seems to be 'immanent' instead ('remaining within'). Perhaps today's front page news on roads means that it really is gearing up for publication shortly.

Rail freight declared UDI and published policy guidance in November to replace some rather aged guidance from 2004, which declares itself to be able to be taken account of by the IPC when considering SRFI applications. There have not actually been any to date, whereas there are two live railway applications and one live highway application.

The railway applications are approaching the end of their examination periods and the IPC/PINS may have to make a recommendation on them without the benefit of an NPS to measure them against.

On airports, the same work plan said that the government's 'priority is to create a sustainable framework for UK aviation, rather than to produce a national policy statement'

Indeed, this month is supposed to see the publication of a consultation draft of a sustainable framework for aviation, following a consultation on its scope a year ago. How similar a sustainable framework will look to an NPS remains to be seen. Again, the lack of likely projects in the near future - Heathrow runway 3 having been cancelled - is part of the reason for the lack of an NPS.

Analysis

I'm not sure that I agree that there shouldn't be an NPS covering an area if there aren't expected to be any projects it would apply to. Here are some reasons for this:

  • projects may come forward that were not expected. When the Ports NPS came out in draft there were not expected to be any applications in the foreseeable future and yet there is now one live application.
  • one of the main purposes of an NPS is to express need backed up by evidence and reasons for that. It would be useful for potential promoters and the general public to see which project types were not needed and why, as well as which were needed. Furthermore, need is not the same as whether projects are expected, and indeed a positive expression of need may encourage projects to come forward.
  • the NPS will be useful for sub-Planning Act projects. The Ports NPS impact assessment explicitly states that the NPS also sets out policy for non-NSIP applications which are considered by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO)

On the other hand, gaps are appearing where projects are coming forward that aren't covered by the existing NPSs. For example, the gas and oil infrastructure NPS EN-4 says it only deals with pipelines carrying oil and natural gas (see para 1.8.2), whereas there are at least two projects on the IPC list that involve pipelines carrying CO2.

For the Planning Act regime to work properly, the NPSs need both to include expected projects and together act as a comprehensive declaration of need for energy, transport, water, waste and waste water infrastructure.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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