Planning & Infrastructure
National Networks National Policy Statement
Over a year after the draft National Policy Statement for roads, railways and rail freight interchanges was published, the Minister of State for Transport laid the final draft National Policy Statement for National Networks (NN NPS) before Parliament on 17 December 2014. Provided that there is no vote against it will be brought into force by the end of January 2015.
Once in force it will provide planning guidance for promoters of nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) on the road and rail networks, and the basis for the examination by the Examining Authority and decisions by the Secretary of State. It will only apply in England. The thresholds for nationally significant road, rail and strategic rail freight infrastructure projects are defined in the Planning Act 2008 as amended.
However, the final draft (in a new section) states that it is not intended to set out an overarching transport strategy. It needs to be read alongside other policy documents together setting out the Government's transport strategy; the Rail Investment Strategy (HLOS) and the Road Investment Strategy. In an addition it is noted that the NPPF is also likely to be an important and relevant consideration, but only to the extent it is relevant to the specific project.
The text of the final draft has been heavily revised and we cover the further details contained in the final draft.
Application of the NPS
As with existing National Policy Statements (NPS), the NN NPS only applies to England. The NN NPS identifies a 'compelling need' for development of national networks and describes the Government's vision for transport as being for "a low carbon sustainable transport system that is an engine for economic growth, but is also safer and improves the quality of life in our communities." This is intended to be the basis of the assessment of applications for nationally significant rail and road infrastructure by the Secretary of State for Transport.
The NPS provides policies for the assessment of nationally significant road, rail and strategic rail freight projects.
Where a project does not meet the criteria for a nationally significant infrastructure project under the Planning Act 2008, but is nonetheless considered to be nationally significant, the Secretary of State can direct that a development should be treated as a nationally significant infrastructure project.
Such nationally significant rail and road infrastructure projects will be assessed against the NN NPS. The NN NPS may also be a material consideration in decision making on applications under the Town and Country Planning Act regime.
As expected, the NN NPS does not cover HS2, which is to be authorised under the HS2 Hybrid Bill. This may come as a disappointment to some, and indeed the Transport Select Committee recommended that reference be made to the desirability of connecting HS2 to the rest of the rail network. However the Government's response was that it would not be appropriate to identify particular schemes or prioritise particular transport corridors.
The final draft NN NPS is a high level strategic policy which does not specify locations for enhanced or new infrastructure. Therefore, the appraisal of sustainability found no significant adverse effects of the policy. In relation to the Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) it states that it has not been possible to eliminate the potential for impacts on European sites from the policy. However, an Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest (IROPI) case could be considered at the project level. The HRA of the NN NPS sets out the following as potentially relevant considerations in such a case; human health, public safety, and beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment.
A Compelling Need
National networks to deliver support for a prosperous and competitive economy are placed at the heart of the need case in the NN NPS. It identifies that national road and rail networks connecting cities, regions and international gateways (ports and airports), play a significant part in supporting national and local economic growth, as well as existing economic activity and productivity.
The Government recognises a 'critical need' to improve the national networks to address road congestion and crowding on the railways, particularly in areas of high population density and along key inter-urban corridors. This is, in part at least, to meet the anticipated future pressure on the networks, with forecasts of an increase in road traffic of 30%, rail journeys of 40% and rail freight of 100% by 2030.
There is a recognised need to improve resilience on the networks to adapt to climate change and extreme weather events, address any safety problems, improve integration between the various transport modes to reduce overall journey times and provide a greater range of transport choices.
In addition improvements may also be needed to address the impact of the national networks on quality of life and environmental factors. Broader environment, safety and accessibility goals will also generate development, in particular development will be needed to address safety problems, enhance the environment or enhance accessibility for non-motorised users.
The Government's conclusion on need is that "at a strategic level" (new words), there is a compelling need for development of the national networks; road and rail, and as an integrated system. In relation to strategic rail freight interchanges (SRFIs) it concludes that "there is a compelling need for an expanded network".
The final draft shies away from identifying any specific locations for development, and from identifying more specifically the types of schemes that the Government considers are needed. The Government's response to the recommendation was to bolster the needs case for improvement to the network, and notes that the consideration of location and modes of transport should happen through the investment planning process after analysis of transport problems and options.
The Government's wider policy is to bring forward improvements and enhancements to the existing strategic road network to address the identified needs including:
junction improvements, new slip roads and upgraded technology to address congestion and improve performance and resilience at junctions, a major source of congestion;
implementing smart motorways to increase capacity, where the hard shoulder is transformed into a permanent additional running lane and traffic flow is moderated by the use of variable speed limits;
improvements to trunk roads, in particular dualling of single carriageway strategic trunk roads and additional lanes on existing dual carriageways to increase capacity and improve performance and resilience.
In relation to roads in particular the final draft sets out additional paragraphs on existing and forecast pressures on the network. In response to criticisms of traffic forecasts by the Transport Select Committee, the Government specifically states in the final draft that it will not rely on those traffic forecast predictions to provide the predicted growth. Individual schemes will be brought forward to
tackle specific issues including those of safety, rather than meet unconstrained traffic growth.
The Government has confirmed that it does not intend to introduce national road pricing to manage demand on the strategic road network, but will consider tolling to fund new road capacity. The final draft states that widespread demand constraint, involving further costs to motorists, is not current Government policy.
It is noted that measures to influence use of the road network including provision of information and traffic management can play an important part. The final draft now states that non-fiscal demand management measures are important (the draft had stated that these can only make a relatively small impact), as well as that new technologies can help to improve and make more efficient use of capacity across the network. The final draft notes that such measures reduce congestion without land take and generally have fewer environmental implications.
However, the final draft concludes that alternatives to new projects are not enough; in some cases it will not be sufficient to expand capacity and new road alignments and corresponding links will be required.
For the national rail network, the Government recognises the existing pressures on the rail network. Research shows that total passenger kilometres travelled by rail between 1994/95 and 2013/2014 more than doubled from 29 to 60 billion. Forecasts predict that passenger demand will continue to grow significantly, as will rail freight transport operations.
On rail the text of the final draft has altered less, although resilience is introduced as a new policy. The short to medium term goal is to improve capacity, capability, reliability and resilience of the rail network at key locations for both passenger and freight movements. It is recognised that rail is a safer, greener and faster mode of travel and the Government proposes to support a modal shift to rail.
The aim of a SRFI is to optimise the use of rail in the freight journey and minimise the secondary distribution leg by road through co-location of other distribution and freight activities. The final draft recognises the need to develop new facilities along major rail routes, close to major trunk roads as well as near conurbations that require the goods.
The Government accepts the industry and Network Rail's rail freight forecast figures to 2033 and acknowledges the pressure to expand the rail freight network. At the same time however, the final draft acknowledges the local impacts in terms of land use and increased road and rail movements, and requires that environmental impacts at these locations be minimised.
The Government's conclusion on need in relation to SRFI does not use the same new words as inserted in the final version for road and rail, but concludes that "there is a compelling need for an expanded network"
In relation to SRFIs the final draft now states that SRFIs are mainly in the Midlands and North, and notes that in London and the South East most RFI and rail-connected wharehousing is on a small scale and/or poorly located in relation to the main urban areas. It also stated that capacity needs to be provided at a range of locations, and that there is a particular challenge in expanding rail freight interchanges serving these areas. This taken together with the conclusion on need referred to above makes the policy on SRFIs the most spatially specific.
Wider Government Policy
The chapter on wider impacts clarifies that it is setting out the Government's wider policies, both as they relate to projects for the national networks that are nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSPIs) and more generally.
Environmental and social impacts
The chapter in the final draft is amended to cover in addition to environment also 'social impacts'. It includes new text stating that for the development of the national road and rail networks to be sustainable these should be designed to minimise social and environmental impacts and improve quality of life. Further, that in delivering new schemes the Government expects applicants to avoid and mitigate environmental and social impacts in line with the principles set out in the NPPF and the Government's planning guidance. New text also makes it clear that applicants should provide evidence that they have considered reasonable opportunities to deliver environmental and social benefits as part of their scheme.
In the final draft the statement of Government policy outside the NSIP regime is amended to clarify that the policy to bring forward targeted works to address existing environmental problems and to improve performance includes also "avoiding significant adverse impacts from noise and vibration and addressing areas of poor air quality".
This text is unchanged in the final draft save for one clarification that additional support for ultra-low emissions vehicles (ULEVs) is Government policy, as also recently confirmed in the Government's Autumn Statement.
The final draft states that scheme promoters are expected to take opportunities to improve road safety, including introducing the most modern and effective safety measures where proportionate and refers to the relevant section on assessment principles – which is substantially unchanged save for clarification that any environmental statement should identify and set out the assessment of any likely significant adverse health impacts.
The final draft states that current congestion pressures will need to be addressed including utilising current technology. Text has been added which leaves it open as to what the impact of new technology might be over the coming decades, while noting that in the foreseeable future advances in technology are not expected to have a significant impact on the need for development of the national networks.
The final draft states that the Government expects applicants to "use reasonable endeavours" to address the needs of cyclists and pedestrians in the design of new schemes.
The final draft now states that the Government expects applicants to improve access, wherever possible, on and around the national networks by designing and delivering schemes that take account of the accessibility requirements of all those who use, or are affected by, national networks infrastructure, including disabled users. All reasonable opportunities to deliver improvements in accessibility on and to the existing national road network should also be taken wherever appropriate.
Road tolling and charging
The final draft states that it is not policy to introduce national road pricing to manage demand motorways and key trunk roads for which the Secretary of State is responsible. However, the Government will consider tolling as a means of funding new road capacity on the Strategic Road Network. This would include entirely
new roads and existing roads where they are transformed by an improvement scheme. Also river and estuarial crossings will normally be funded by tolls or road user charges. Local charges may be introduced by local authorities, or other authorities, if justified.
Note that the final draft states that where tolls or road user charges are proposed as part of a highways project that is the subject of a s35 Planning Act 2008 direction, the Government will expect the applicant to demonstrate that the proposals are consistent with the NN NPS, the relevant development plan and relevant statutory transport strategies and plans.
Continuing the principle contained in the existing NPS, there is a general presumption in favour of granting development consent for national networks significant infrastructure projects. This section of the NPS sets out the general policies in accordance with which applications relating to national networks infrastructure are to be decided.
The final draft has been amended to expand the list of matters that the Examining Authority and the Secretary of State should take into account when considering any proposed development, and in particular, when weighing its adverse impacts against its benefits. The previous draft required consideration of the project's contribution to meeting the need for national networks infrastructure, job creation and any longer-term or wider benefits. In the final draft this has been revised to consideration of, "the facilitation of economic development, including job creation, housing and environmental improvement, and any long-term or wider benefits". A summary of the general policies is set out below and these include:
Business case and local transport model applications for road and rail projects are to be supported by a business case prepared in accordance with the Treasury Green Book principles, which provides the basis for investment decisions. The final draft also states that applications are expected to be supported by a local transport model to provide sufficiently accurate detail of the impacts of a project.
Alternatives the special linear nature of rail and road infrastructure is recognised, for example in that consideration of alternatives may be limited due to the need to connect pre-existing sections of the network.
EIA and Habitats Regulations assessments projects will be required to comply with
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Habitats Regulations in the usual way, including consideration of alternative options (subject to the limitation above). Good scheme design and visual appearance are expected to be key factors in the provision of new infrastructure, as well as functionality, fitness for purpose, sustainability and cost. Adverse impacts should be mitigated as far as possible. Weight is also to be given to the consideration of new technology in delivering projects.
The final draft contains a new paragraph clarifying that where a development may negatively affect any priority habitat or species on a site for which they are a protected feature, any IROPI case would need to be established solely on one or more of the grounds relating to human health, public safety or beneficial consequences of primary importance to the environment. As noted above the HRA of the NN NPS covers such consideration.
Climate Change the impacts of climate change must be taken into account when considering location, design, build and operation of the road or rail networks. This is an ongoing obligation so that even once any environmental statement has been prepared, if new UK Climate Change projections become available, the Examining Authority considering the development consent order application should consider whether additional information is required from the applicant. The final draft also states any adaption measures must themselves also be assessed as part of any EIA and included in the environmental statement, which should set out how and where such measures are proposed to be secured.
Options appraisal all projects should be subject to an options appraisal. The final draft includes new text to clarify that the examining authority, or the decision maker, should not need to reconsider project options appraisal where projects have been subject to full options appraisal in achieving their status within Government investment strategies or other appropriate policies or investment plans. However, decision makers must be satisfied that the assessment has been undertaken. The appraisal should consider viable modal alternatives and may also consider other options i.e. tolling and charging.
Good design the section on criteria for "good design" sees some revisions in the final draft. It now states that, "Visual appearance should be a key factor in considering the design of new infrastructure, as well as functionality, fitness for purpose, sustainability and cost."
There is also a significant revision and clarification that, "Scheme design will be a material consideration in decision making. The Secretary of State needs to be satisfied that national networks infrastructure projects are sustainable and as aesthetically sensitive, durable, adaptable and resilient as they can reasonably be (having regard to regulatory and other constraints and including accounting for natural hazards such as flooding)."
Safety from a road network perspective, the final draft stresses that applicants should take the opportunity to improve safety of the networks, and the Secretary of State should refuse development consent unless satisfied that all reasonable steps have been taken to minimise the risk of road casualties arising from the scheme and contribute to an overall improvement in the safety of the strategic road network.
From a railway perspective, the Government states that whilst this is one of the safest forms of transport, the opportunity should be taken to introduce the most modern and effective safety measures. Development consent should not be granted unless all reasonable steps have been taken to minimise the risk of deaths or injury arising from the scheme, contributing to an overall improvement in societal safety levels and noting that railway developments can influence risk levels both on and off the railway networks. Development should not be consented which would lead to a disproportionate increase in the risk of death or injury.
There are a number of generic impacts to be considered in the assessment of nationally significant road and rail network applications, including:
Air quality which must be given substantial weight where a project would lead to a significant air quality impact from an EIA perspective or a deterioration in air quality in a zone/agglomeration under the Air Quality Directive;
Carbon emissions this is an entirely new section which provides that carbon impacts will be assessed as part of the appraisal of scheme options. But the Government is also keen to stress following the recommendations of the Transport Select Committee that it does not consider that
the impacts of a road project in isolation will affect the ability of the Government to meet its carbon reduction plan targets of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050;
Biodiversity and ecological conservation for which the Secretary of State must ensure that appropriate weight is attached to designated sites of international, national or local importance, protected species, habitats and other species of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity and to biodiversity and geological interests within the wider environment;
Flood risk which follows the requirements of the NPPF in that development should be directed away from areas of highest flooding risk, but acknowledging that essential linear infrastructure which has to cross areas of high flood risk is permissible subject to the Sequential and Exception Tests (as detailed in a Flood Risk Assessment). The final draft includes a new reference to useful sources of information for consideration in Flood Risk Assessments including local flood risk management strategies and surface water management plans;
Land instability this is included in the final draft as a new section and states that a preliminary assessment of ground instability should be carried out at the earliest possible stage before a detailed application for development consent is prepared; this could be in the form of a land stability or slope stability risk assessment report;
The historic environment which again reflects the tests set out in the NPPF whereby development which would lead to substantial harm to or total loss of significance of a heritage asset should be refused, unless specified criteria apply;
Landscape and Visual impacts notably for which the final draft states that there is a strong presumption against any significant road widening or building of new roads and strategic rail freight interchanges in a National Park, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, unless it can be shown that there are compelling reasons for the new or enhanced capacity and that the benefits outweigh the costs very significantly. Further, in a change from the previous draft the final draft states that the Secretary of State should be satisfied that the applicant has where possible included measures to enhance other aspects of the environment;
Green belt (and Metropolitan Open Land and land designated as Local Green Space in a local or neighbourhood plan) and a presumption against inappropriate development in such locations unless justified by "very special circumstances". It is recognised by the NPS that national network infrastructure developments may comprise 'inappropriate development'. No guidance is given on what constitutes very special circumstances. Despite the Radlett SRFI approval such development in green belt locations is likely to be limited;
Noise and vibration the final draft includes a new paragraph to clarify that the potential noise impact that is directly associated with the development, such as changes in road and rail movements elsewhere on the national network, should be considered as appropriate;
Impact on transport networks the Transport Select Committee suggested that specific provision be made for applicants to assess and manage the impacts of developments to national networks on local networks. The response is to require the Examining Authority and the Secretary of State to give 'due consideration' to impacts on local transport networks and policies under local plans, e.g. demand management undertaken at a local level. Further, where a road rail or SRFI development is subject to EIA and is likely to have significant environmental impacts arising from impacts on transport networks, it should describe those impacts and mitigation commitments. In all other cases the applicant's assessment should include a proportionate assessment of the transport impacts on other networks as part of the application. For SRFIs the final draft states that travel planning should be undertaken for all major developments which generate significant amounts of transport movement.
The draft NN NPS included the statement that applicants may additionally wish to make use of biodiversity offsetting, however this was not defined. It is interesting to note that the final draft includes the following (new) definition;
"Biodiversity offsets are measurable conservation outcomes resulting from actions designed to compensate for residual adverse biodiversity impacts arising from a development after mitigating measures have been taken."
The goal of biodiversity offsets is to achieve no net loss and preferably a net gain of biodiversity." It would therefore appear to be an endorsement of the mechanism of biodiversity offsets which precedes the Government's response to the 2013 Consultation which was due to be published over the summer 2014, but to date still has not been published. For more information on biodiversity offsetting you may read our separate briefing here.
Following the laying in House of Commons there follow a 21 day period for consideration of the NN NPS by Parliament. Provided that there is no vote against the final draft, the NN NPS will be approved by Parliament and brought into force by the end of January 2015.
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