UK: Ten Infrastructure Planning Predictions For 2013

Last Updated: 8 January 2013
Article by Angus Walker

Happy New Year - I hope you had a good break.

Everyone loves lists, so to kick off 2013, here are my top ten predictions for the Planning Act regime this year.

1. 13 infrastructure projects will be decided in 2013

It's not too difficult to give a rough estimate of the number of decisions that will be made in any year at the start of the year since they must be taken within a year of the 'preliminary meeting'.  12 projects had preliminary meetings during 2012, but one of those was withdrawn (Roosecote).  Four more are having their PMs this month, so I am predicting that two of those will be decided this year, i.e. at least a couple of weeks early, making 13 in all.  Unlucky for some?

2. Hinkley Point C will be given consent on 15 March

Probably the most significant decision will be that for Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.  I predict that it will get a positive decision, which will be issued on Friday 15 March, at about 4.50 pm.

3. A judicial review of a Planning Act decision will be launched

I'm not going to single any particular one out, but I predict that this year a decision on an infrastructure project will be judicially reviewed.  The Planning Act provides for a six-week period in which decisions - positive or negative - can be referred to the High Court for reasons of procedural error.

4. The National Networks National Policy Statement will not be published in 2013

We have been waiting for a draft statement of need and impacts to be assessed for road, rail and rail freight projects for over four years. I predict that another year will pass without any sight of this.  I hope I'm wrong but I suspect I won't be.  The latest position was that it would be published after a 'Transport Strategy' was issued in draft in December, but that didn't appear either.

5. An application for a 'business and commercial project' to be considered nationally significant will be made

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill is likely to be come law in April 2013, and one of its provisions is to allow applications to be made for certain business and commercial projects to use the Planning Act regime.  While I don't think that any actual applications for consent for such projects will be made this year, I do think that at least one application for a project to be able to use the Planning Act regime will be made (a 'section 35 application').

6. The Rookery South DCO will survive SPP unscathed

The first application to be accepted, and only one to be decided, by the then Infrastructure Planning Commission has been held up in Parliament ever since.   This process of 'special parliamentary procedure' (SPP) was triggered because a local authority had objected to its land being acquired compulsorily.  The committee of three peers and three MPs has thrown out most of the opponents' arguments, but is still considering one.  Although private undertakings may be given by the project's promoter Covanta Energy to the local authorities, I predict that the Development Consent Order (DCO) authorising the project will emerge from Parliament approved and unamended.

7. No other DCO will undergo SPP in 2013

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill will cut down the triggers for SPP, although it does not eliminate them altogether.  This year I predict that no project will need to undergo SPP, but that doesn't mean that no project will ever do so again.  Promoters will argue, for example, that their project is urgent and shouldn't undergo SPP even though it normally would, and eventually one of these arguments will not succeed.  Something for next year perhaps.

8. Three NSIP thresholds will be amended

The Planning Act covers 14 different types of nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP), from airports to sewage works.  For each one there is a threshold above which a project is considered nationally significant and must use the regime.  The prediction that three will change is not too controversial since they have been or are being consulted on already, but I predict that the following thresholds will change in 2013 (but no others): electric lines, railways and highways.  Thresholds for business and commercial projects may or may not be introduced, depending on a current consultation.  Perhaps not.

9. Amending DCOs will become an issue

At the moment, to amend a consented DCO with a 'material change' requires a process almost indistinguishable from applying for a new DCO.  It is only simpler in a few small ways - old documents can be reused, for example - but takes about as long as a new application.  A little less concrete a prediction than the above, but I expect this to become an issue this year, where this amendment process will be seen to be inhibiting growth.

10. This blog will continue throughout 2013

More of a resolution than a prediction, I end by undertaking to continue this blog for 2013. I should manage to post the 500th entry some time during the year, and there may well be some sort of event to mark the occasion for blog subscribers.  Watch this space!

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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Angus Walker
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