After proposals to develop a NPS for water resources, Defra has revised proposals to amend the type and size of water resources infrastructure within the definition of NSIP in the Planning Act 2008

On 5 April 2018, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) published a response to its 2017 consultation on the draft national policy statement (NPS) for water resources. Defra also set out proposals to amend the type and size of water resources infrastructure that would qualify as a nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) within the Planning Act 2008, and has launched a further consultation on this. Responses to the consultation must be made by 26 April 2018 and can be submitted here.

What are national policy statements?

NPSs set out government policy on different types of nationally significant infrastructure project. There are currently 11 NPSs, covering a range of development areas from energy to ports to national networks. There are also a number of draft NPSs, which are currently being progressed, including for airports, geological disposal infrastructure and water resources. The NPS for any particular type of NSIP will provide the framework within which a decision will be made on whether or not to grant development consent for a project.

What is a nationally significant infrastructure project?

NSIPs are large-scale developments (relating to energy, transport, water or waste) that require a particular kind of planning permission known as a ‘development consent order’ (DCO). DCOs are governed by the Planning Act 2008 and to qualify as a NSIP, development must exceed certain thresholds set out in the Act. DCOs can include a variety of consents, including planning permission, and the regime was designed to streamline the decision-making process for major infrastructure projects.

Response to the consultation on NPS for water resources

In March 2017 the government announced that it would be progressing a NPS for water resources. A consultation on this was launched in November 2017 to obtain views on the proposed approach, and also the types and scales of infrastructure that the NPS will apply to. The NPS is aimed to facilitate the development of new water resources infrastructure and improve the resilience of water supplies.

Defra has now published its response to the consultation, and confirms the following:

  • The draft NPS will take account of any new evidence around the need for resilience within the water sector, including work by the National Infrastructure Commission, Water UK and Defra’s 25 year environmental plan (which was published in January 2018).
  • Defra will develop the NPS around the three principles set out in the consultation:
    1. The NPS will set out the need for water infrastructure as part of a ‘twin track’ approach to managing water resources (using water more efficiently and increasing supply).
    2. The NPS will reinforce and make clear the role of water companies, water resource management plans (WRMPs) in identifying the most appropriate water resources schemes,including new water resources infrastructure.
    3. The NPS will reiterate the importance of developing and designing water resources schemes that meet the government’s objective to enhance the environment.
  • Defra will hold a further consultation on the types and sizes of water supply infrastructure that should be defined as NSIPs in the Planning Act 2008.

Further consultation on water resources infrastructure sizes and types

The Planning Act 2008 currently categorises three types of development as a water NSIP.

  • The construction of a new dam or reservoir where the volume of water to be held back by the dam or stored in the reservoir exceeds 10 million cubic metres.
  • The alteration of a dam or reservoir where the additional water to be held back or stored will exceed 10 million cubic metres.
  • Water transfer schemes (which move water from one river basin to another) where the volume of water to be transferred will exceed 100 million cubic metres per year.

The latest consultation proposes to use common thresholds for different types of water supply infrastructure, and seeks views on revisions to the definitions of water NSIPs in the Planning Act 2008. Specifically, the consultation seeks views on the use of the concept of ‘deployable output’ to quantify the size of a water NSIP and invites comments on the proposed thresholds for four types of water supply infrastructure.

  • Dams and reservoirs: currently the threshold is a capacity to hold back 10 million cubic metres, or an increase in existing capacity of the same amount. Following feedback from a previous consultation that this threshold was too low, the proposal is to increase this to schemes that will hold back 30 million cubic metres or provide 80 mega litres per day of deployable output.
  • Water transfer: currently the threshold is where the volume of water transferred is expected to exceed 100 million cubic metres per year. The proposal is to change this to the transfer of water equal to or exceeding 80 mega litres per day deployable output (equivalent to 29.2 million cubic metres per year).
  • Desalination plants: these are not currently within the Planning Act 2008 regime and it is proposed to add a new definition that includes plants designed to deliver a deployable output of at least 80 mega litres per day.
  • Effluent reuse: this is not currently included as a specific infrastructure type within the Planning Act 2008 definitions, because it is not a distinct infrastructure type and is often composed of a combination of water treatment works, transfer and wastewater treatment works. It is not proposed to include effluent reuse specifically as a NSIP. Section 35 of the Planning Act 2008 allows promoters of schemes to seek a direction from the secretary of state on whether a particular project should be assessed within the Planning Act 2008 regime. This option will remain for large effluent reuse projects.

Next steps

The responses to the latest consultation will inform the government’s final amendments to the thresholds and type of project that will qualify as a water NSIP in the Planning Act 2008. A further consultation on a full draft of the NPS on water resources will be carried out later in 2018.