UK: Say Hello To The PINS Consents Service Unit

Last Updated: 3 May 2013
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry reports on the launch of the Planning Inspectorate's Consents Service Unit.

Last Monday saw the low-key launch of a new unit in the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) intended to assist with the co-ordination of other consents before and during the examination of Planning Act applications.


When the Planning Act was a twinkle in the (previous) government's eye, one of its main aims was to reduce the number of separate consents that were required for the same project.  The oft-quoted Heathrow Terminal 5 project required 37 applications to be made, and a very early blog entry analysed whether the Planning Act would have reduced this to one application (not quite). The Planning Act was thus intended to be a 'one stop shop' for consents as far as could be achieved. Quite a few consents, however, required the agreement of the consenting body before they could be disapplied by a Development Consent Order (DCO), and in the early days of the regime, consenting bodies were routinely refusing to allow this.

In parallel with this, the government asked Adrian Penfold of British Land to consider how to improve the system of non-planning consents - he identified over 80 and made several streamlining suggestions in his final report of July 2010.  One of his recommendations was:

Putting in place clear rules of engagement between planning authorities and the different non-planning consent decision makers to ensure that, where appropriate, the latter give substantive advice to the planning decision maker(s), identifying 'show-stoppers' and significant mitigation costs to help inform their decision of principle (G.4)

During the passage of what is now the Growth and Infrastructure Act there were further calls for the concept of a 'one stop shop' to be more fully realised for applications using the Planning Act regime. 

From November 2012 to January 2013 the government consulted on the one stop shop issue and while falling short of combining all consents into a single development consent, proposed that little-used ones be able to be combined, and that others would be actively managed by PINS to ensure that they didn't hold up the main consent.  Twelve consents were earmarked for these 'bespoke consent management arrangements'.

In January 2013, PINS also produced revised pre-application guidance that among other things sought to stop the routine refusal of bodies allowing other consents to be disapplied by DCOs:

the bodies that would normally be responsible for granting these consents should make every effort to facilitate this. They should only object to the inclusion of such non-planning consents with good reason, and after careful consideration of reasonable alternatives. (paragraph 19)

The new unit

The government issued its response to the one stop shop consultation on 12 March and promised:

The Consents Service Unit, to be based in the Planning Inspectorate, will be operational from April 2013 and will offer a bespoke service to those developers that want to use it. It will provide a lead contact to work with the developer and relevant consenting bodies (with a strong emphasis on the pre-application stage), to co-ordinate a logical and systematic approach to the handling of 12 different consents which may be required in addition to development consent under the 2008 Act. (paragraph 14)

April 2013 has been and gone but in fact the unit has already opened for business, having come into existence on 22 April.  It currently has three members of staff, one from PINS, one seconded from Natural England and one seconded from the Environment Agency.  Its email address is

The twelve consents are:

  1. European Protected Species Licensing - a licence under Regulation 53 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2012 (grant of licences for certain purposes)
  2. A licence under section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 (licences)
  3. A licence under regulation 49 of the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats. &c) Regulations 2007 (power to grant licences)
  4. An environmental permit under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010
  5. Water Abstraction: Licence under sections 24 and 25 of the Water Resources Act 1991 (restrictions on abstraction and impounding; restrictions on impounding)
  6. A consent under section 32 (relates to investigative consents e.g. for boreholes), section 109 (main river flood defence consenting) or section 164 (governs the Environment Agency's own discharges to watercourses when doing works), and under byelaws made under paragraphs 5, 6 or 6A of Schedule 25 of the Water Resources Act 1991(25) (Environment Agency flood defence and drainage byelaws and fisheries byelaws)
  7. A consent under section 166 of the Water Industry Act 1991 (consents for certain discharges under section 165)
  8. An authorisation under regulation 8 of the Persistent Organic Pollutants Regulations 2007
  9. A notice of determination of a reference by a sewerage undertaker under Chapter 3 of Part 4 of the Water Industry Act 1991 (trade effluent)
  10. A consent under section 23 of the Land Drainage Act 1991
  11. A temporary abstraction licence under the Water Act 2003
  12. Notices under section 95 of the Energy Act 2004 dealing with safety zones around offshore renewable energy installations

PINS will shortly be issuing a written 'prospectus' for the Consents Service Unit, and are aiming to have this and some frequently asked questions (yes, people have been asking questions already) ready in time for the National Infrastructure Planning Association (NIPA) annual conference on 8 May.  Sir Mike Pitt, head of PINS, will say more about the unit at the conference. See here for more details - what a stellar line-up!

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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