We posted earlier today about recent legislative changes to the Planning Act 2008 which impact on the regime for consenting nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) . This blog sets out what further changes to the regime may be forthcoming.

On 6 March 2024, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities published its response to the consultation run on operational reforms to the NSIP consenting process. A new fast-track route to consent will be available for NSIPs capable of meeting the new fast-track quality standard. These projects will be supported to achieve a non-statutory twelve month target timescale from acceptance to decision, including a shorter statutory maximum examination timescale. The fast-track route is designed to be suitable for projects of any sector and complexity, however complex applications will require more effort to reduce the number and scope of issues to be covered at examination and be capable of being examined within four months. It will be for the Planning Inspectorate, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, to make the decision about whether an application meets the fast-track standard and progresses into the fast-track consenting route.

On 7 March 2024, the Department for Transport announced a call for evidence to review how road and rail NSIPs are defined in the PA 2008. Sections 22 and 25 of the PA 2008  respectively set out the definition for highways projects and railway projects which require a development consent order (DCO). Highway projects that fall outside the PA 2008 definition require consent under the Highways Act 1980 and railway projects consent under the Transport and Works Act 1992. The government is seeking views on whether changes to the definitions could enable certain road and rail projects to be consented under a more proportionate regime to the size, scale or likely impacts of a project. The call for evidence closes on 5 April 2024.

On the same day, planning minister Lee Rowley confirmed that Lord Charles Banner KC of Keating Chambers has been appointed to lead a three-month independent review into speeding up the delivery of major infrastructure projects, focusing on the impact of “inappropriate legal challenges”. According to the government’s policy paper published last November, over half of all legal challenges to NSIP decisions have been brought since 2020, 19 out of the total 32.

Watch this space…