UK: Analysis Of Planning Act Project Thresholds (2)

Last Updated: 26 September 2012
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry looks at the current Planning Act thresholds for transport projects.

A previous blog entry examined the thresholds by which seven types of energy project are considered to be nationally significant and must therefore use the Planning Act regime to be authorised. Today's entry looks at  the five transport thresholds.  The thresholds are to be reviewed by the government (no further details yet), which has promoted this analysis.


Complexity *****
Height *
Ignorance *****

The threshold for highways is without a doubt the most complex, and partly as a result of this, the least well known.  It also potentially applies to a large number of projects.  But that's not necessarily a bad thing!

There are effectively four sub-categories, two of which are fairly simple and two of which are more complicated.  First, you need to know what a highway for which the Secretary of State is the highway authority - these are motorways and trunk roads, which the Highways Agency looks after on the Secretary of State's behalf.  I'll call them 'SoS highways' here.  Note that a 'highway' can be anything with a public right of way along it, not just the vehicular roads that spring to mind: indeed during the passage of the Planning Bill the government suggested that a footpath might in some circumstances be deemed nationally significant.

The first simple threshold is if you are building a new highway and it will be an SoS highway. A slip road might be caught, so even this is quite a low threshold.   The second simple one is if you are improving an SoS highway and the improvement is such that you need environmental impact assessment (EIA) for it.  Having the mindset 'well, it's within the existing highway boundary' is not sufficient, it might still need EIA and be within the Planning Act regime - who owns the land is not relevant.

The first complicated one is if you are building a new highway and it isn't going to be an SoS highway itself, but it is being built 'for a purpose connected with' an SoS highway.  I have thought long and hard about that test.  If the highway will physically connect to an SoS highway, does that mean it is necessarily being built for a purpose connected with that highway?  Maybe, maybe not.  If it isn't phyisically connecting with an SoS highway, does that mean it can't be being built for a purpose connected with one?  It may still be, if it is providing indirect access or congestion relief.

Finally, the 'alteration' of a highway.  Again we've got this 'purpose' test, but this time the highway alteration must be being done by or on behalf of the SoS, which is more restrictive than the construction threshold. 'Helpfully', the interpretation section of the Act says "alteration", in relation to a highway, includes' stopping up the highway or diverting, improving, raising or lowering it'. Improving it! That really gets you going round in circles.

Quirky point: improving and altering highways is only for ones 'wholly in England', so arguably doing a bit of work to the M4 or A1 near London isn't caught, because those highways extend to Wales and Scotland respectively.  I suspect that is an unintended consequence of the definition.


Complexity **
Height *****
Ignorance **

The threshold for this is a very high 10 million passengers a year for a new airport or an extension of that size to an existing one.  There is an alternative high freight figure as well.  Given that only four UK airports catered for that many passengers in 2011 (LHR, LGW, MAN and STN), this would really only apply to a new runway at one of those, one of the next few on the list, or a large new airport.  One quirk is that a restriction on numbers being lifted could count towards the capacity, without anything being built.  This happened at Stansted three years ago: the limit on passengers was raised from 25m to 35m, which had it happened post-March 2010 would have been an NSIP by one passenger.

A new terminal 2 is being built at Heathrow to increase capacity by 10 million, but the previous terminal was operating at 'over capacity'.  I'm not sure how you calculate the capacity increase in that situation, but it does show that a terminal expansion might trigger the threshold without a runway expansion - presumably it depends on what the main bottleneck is that currently restricts capacity.


Complexity ***
Height ****
Ignorance *

The harbours threshold is all about cargo throughput and is calculated on the basis of containers, roll-on roll-off vehicles, tonnage of loose cargo, or a combination of these (e.g. half the threshold for containers plus half the threshold for loose cargo).  It doesn't include passengers, so you can build as large a ferry terminal as you like without being an NSIP (unless you count passengers as loose cargo and weigh them, I suppose).


Complexity ***
Height **
Ignorance **

The railway threshold is fairly simple, fairly low and fairly well-known, but is the only one that the government pledged to review before the current review was announced.  The rule is whether railway works can rely on 'permitted development' rights or not.  That is simple, but doesn't bear much relation to national significance, since it depends on where some engineers drew a line on a map in about 1846.  Stay within the limits of the original railway and you are insignificant, stray outside and you are vital to the nation.

The complexity is higher because it hasn't really been nailed down what a 'railway' is yet.  A railway is defined as 'a system of transport employing parallel rails ...' and one word in that causes uncertainty: 'system'.  Does the system include stations, bridges etc.?  A railway wouldn't be much good without stations.  But if a new Starbucks at a station needs planning permission, does that make it a nationally significant infrastructure project?  It shouldn't, certainly, but it might, legally.

Rail freight

Complexity ***
Height ****
Ignorance ***

The final transport category is for strategic rail freight interchanges (SRFIs).  The threshold is multi-limbed, but the main criterion is area - the terminal must cover at least 60ha - that's just under 150 acres in old money.  It's not entirely clear what counts as contributing to that area, and there has been some dispute about it.  Should offsite mitigation be included, or just the main site, for example?

The provision of SRFIs in the south east is a bit of a dog's breakfast consisting of a hot potato at the moment. The saga of the Radlett SRFI near St Albans took another turn last week where a third inquiry into it was ordered to take place by Eric Pickles, to be combined with an inquiry into the Slough SRFI.  The former is around 120ha but was applied for before the March 2010 Planning Act switch-on, and the red line boundary for the latter is 58.5ha.  The latter's availability as an alternative to the former was the main reason for the former's refusal, but the latter has been refused as well.  Perhaps if both applications - even now - were re-started under the Planning Act regime they might still take less time to be decided.

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.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Angus Walker
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.