UK: NIPA Pronounces On Infrastructure

Last Updated: 17 May 2012
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry reports on the first annual conference of the National Infrastructure Planning Association, NIPA.

NIPA, which was founded 18 months ago with an initial shove from Bircham Dyson Bell, held its first annual conference yesterday at the offices of Clifford Chance in London's Docklands.  I think it was rather successful, with a succession of interesting speakers who all had something worthwhile to say about the Planning Act regime.  If you haven't yet joined NIPA and are interested in infrastructure planning (which you probably are, if you have read this far), you really should join!  It is a mere £75 a year, and the membership year starts on 1 June - if you join now, that will last until 31 May 2013.

Although a decision was not formally taken (something for the AGM, perhaps?) the pronunciation of NIPA as nippa rather than neepa or nyepa was pretty much settled.

The first session started with Steve Norris, NIPA Chair, in the chair.  Bridget Rosewell of Volterra Consulting gave an overview of why infrastructure was needed and how it should be planned effectively.  She thought that an Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) was likely to be issued after all, by 2015.  Then, Alan Couzens of Infrastructure UK summarised the 2011 National Infrastructure Plan and what was being done to improve the landscape for infrastructure.  Another pronunciation point: he thought the new Major Infrastructure Environment Unit should be pronounced 'meow', which I heartily endorse.

Finally, Cathal Rock of DCLG described the genesis of the Planning Act regime leading up to the current 'light touch review' of it.  He described the National Networks NPS as 'on hold'.  He agreed that the Planning Act was 'wanting' when it came to Special Parliamentary Procedure, but the contents of the forthcoming legislation to address this had not yet been developed.

In the second session, Trudi Elliott of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) put infrastructure planning in the context of planning generally.  She said that the delay in NPSs was not good enough, although the jury was out on whether the NPSs that have been designated were fit for purpose, given that they have only been applied to one decision so far.  Pauleen Lane of the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) spoke of the transition from the late Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), of which she was deputy chair, to PINS at the start of last month. 

Although not popular amongst developers, the policy of openness did mean that the IPC and now PINS wasn't too bogged down with Freedom of Information requests.  One area where the IPC and PINS did not publish correspondence at the time was feedback on draft Development Consent Orders (DCOs). I asked if PINS was singing from the CLG hymn sheet (Rock anthem sheet?) that material changes should be allowed to applications after they had been made in some circumstances and she acknowledged that this was an issue, albeit one on which PINS were 'not quite there yet'.

Hector Pearson of National Grid and Ian Fletcher of Thames Water then spoke about their experiences of pre-application consultation for their projects.  Hector relayed one memorable quotation from Sir Mike Pitt: 'the [pre-application consultation] bar is high, but we can't tell you how high'.  Ian said that the Thames Tunnel Statement of Community Consultation allowed for 'further targeted consultation' so that later consultation could be limited to particular issues and groups, a good idea.

The third session saw Michael Humphries QC take over the chair from Steve Norris.  Harry Phillpot and Catherine Howard described their experiences of the Hinkley Point C application to date.  Harry noted that in order to speed things up, a preliminary works planning application and applications for a temporary jetty had been made separately and were also included in the DCO in case they weren't approved, although the preliminary works application had now been approved. They had been encouraged in this approach via a government letter to local authorities in 2009. Catherine gave some tips on DCO drafting and gave a flavour of the preparation and submission of the Hinkley Point C application - all 55,000 pages of it, with 'lockdown' in 'war rooms' in the final days before submission.

Thomas Bender of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), now part of the Design Council, stressed the importance and value of good design for projects, which local people would have to put up with looking at for years to come - although visual impact wasn't the only element of good design.  Howard Bassford described his experience of the Rookery South application, describing the mainly written rather than oral procedure as 'submarine warfare'.  He called for a consistent document reference system for examinations. He acknowledged that there had been changes made to that application during the examination, such as moving effluent handling from off- to on-site.  He and other speakers mentioned the lack of a procedural regime in the model provision for discharging requirements - views depended on the perceived attitude of the local authorites involved.

In the final session, David Brock spoke about the Covanta application from the point of view of the local authorities, for whom he had acted.  He urged local authorities to engage early, expect to be involved and call on outside experience given that nationally significant infrastructure projects were only rarely likely to affect a particular authority.  Finally, Nigel Howorth, who acted for Horizon on the Wylfa project, Nicola Walker of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and John Romanski of the RTPI participated in a brief panel session about whether the regime was working effectively.  The consensus was that it was a lot better than the previous situation but still had some way to go, a fitting closing call to NIPA to help achieve this.

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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