UK: NIPA Conference Report

Last Updated: 4 September 2017
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry reports on the 2017 annual conference of the National Infrastructure Planning Association.

The 2017 (and 6th) NIPA annual conference took place as usual at the offices of Clifford Chance in Canary Wharf in London. And as usual, for me at least, it was a very interesting day of speakers and discussions with other delegates.

The first speaker was Giles Scott, head of energy consenting at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS, which had various pronunciations through the day but I believe the official one is 'baize'). He said that Richard Harrington MP was the new minister responsible for deciding energy Development Consent Order applications.

He said that the 'industrial strategy' part of the department's name included plans to upgrade infrastructure generally, and a white paper was coming on legislating on the country's industrial strategy. He got some stick for delaying two decisions earlier in the week.

Matt Crossman of the National Infrastructure Commission spoke next. He set out what the NIC had been doing and was going to do, admitting that the 'vision and priorities' precursor to the National Infrastruture Assessment due this summer would be 'a few weeks late'. He said that the first National Infrastructure Assessment wouldn't be as comprehensive as later ones given the shorter time allowed to produce it. BritainThinks had been engaged to find out attitudes to infrastructure among the general public, but I still think there needs to be more direct public engagement.

Gareth Phillips of Pinsent Masons then spoke about infrastructure planning in Wales. The only 'development of national significance' (DNS) application to have been made so far, for a 49.9MW biomass plant near Milford Haven, had been suspended for six months while further environmental information was supplied. Suspension was a power available to a DNS inspector, perhaps not expected to be used on the very first application.

The Wales Act 2017 meant a gap in consenting procedures would appear for energy infrastructure between 50MW and 350MW, which could be filled by a new regime, or the DNS regime could be amended and extended. Welsh Government officials had met with NIPA representatives (including Gareth and me) the previous day to discuss this.

Prof Tony Crook talked about land value capture. He concluded that rather than national schemes for this, the best system had been the use of s106 agreements, but thought there should be a way of the state sharing (not completely taking) the 'free' uplift in values of properties near new transport infrastructure to help pay for it.

After the break there was a double act from Simone Wilding and Pauleen Lane of the Planning Inspectorate. Simone mentioned that the Whitemoss hazardous waste DCO judicial review challenge had recently been rejected by the Court of Appeal, and that that court was still consider the developer's challenge to the Mynydd y Gwynt wind farm refusal. New PINS advice was due to be published imminently on the Water Framework Directive.

Pauleen picked up on various practice points such as stressing the need for better explanatory memoranda, use of GPS, more complete protective provisions when making applications and the use of mitigation and land acquisition tables.

Clare Hennessey of WSP spoke about the 'mitigation maze', including some on-screen maze-solving software. Does this blog have a lot of maths in it? Anyway, she had some interesting examples of 'community benefit' awarded on the Hinkley Point C project for planning purposes: for an oyster farm, goalposts, moving rare monkeys and for earplugs. She said that developers often forgot to set out 'embedded mitigation', i.e. where mitigation was designed into a project rather than being added later, but was still mitigation.

After lunch, Chris Pagdin of Planning Aid England set out how that body can help community engagement, and Chris Todd of the Campaign for Better Transport basically laid into Highways England on its community engagement, or was it really the Planning Act regime for not having enough engagement required in it?

Richard Honey of FTB chambers set out the changes to the law (largely forthcoming) on compulsory purchase, including the new temporary possession regime that everyone, including DCO promoters, will have to use rather than their own bespoke provisions. It raises many questions, e.g. landowners can ask that the land be fully acquired instead of temporarily occupied – do the promoters have to show a compelling case in the public interest if that came up, when it wasn't part of their plans?

Mark O'Connor of Amec Foster Wheeler talked about embedding climate change resilience into projects – making drainage channels bigger and so on, from the point of view of an asset manager.

Karl Cradick of Savills asked some interesting questions about the new ability to include some housing in DCOs. There seems to be a question over whether worker accommodation that is then converted to permanent housing (possibly fewer larger units) falls under the 'functional' or 'proximate' category.

Jon Twitchen of PCSG argued for more use of technology in DCO applications, particularly visualisations, which were worth thousands of words. His wide-ranging talk included reference to mooshrooms (don't ask).

Finally, Keith Mitchell of PBA explained NIPA's recently-published research into flexibility versus detail and made some suggestions about what the next area for research could be (suggestions welcome).

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