In general, applications to the Planning Inspectorate for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) are on the increase, with 21 having been made since the regime came into force in March 2010.
…BUT APPROVAL IS STILL SLOW
At the time of writing, however, only two projects have emerged from the regime: Network Rail’s Ipswich Rail Chord scheme and Network Rail’s North Doncaster Chord scheme. The first project to receive consent, an energy from waste project in Bedfordshire, is currently having to undergo an additional process in Parliament. This process, ‘Special Parliamentary Procedure’ will take more than a year, although the recently published Growth and Infrastructure Bill proposes to substantially reduce the circumstances where it is engaged.
HIGHWAY PROJECTS UNDER WAY..
In terms of highway projects, the Heysham to M6 Link Road, the first highways application, has recently completed its examination stage. PINS now has three months to make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Transport, who will have a further three months to make a decision.
...AND MORE IN THE PIPELINE
That project has been joined by the M1 Junction 10a Improvement Scheme, being promoted by Luton Borough Council. An application was made on 29 June and accepted for examination on 27 July. To date, these are the only two highway applications to have been made, but two more have commenced their pre-application consultation: the A556 Improvements project south of Manchester, the first to be promoted by the Highways Agency, and the Morpeth North Bypass project being promoted by Northumberland County Council. Central Bedfordshire Council has recently notified PINS that it intends to make an application for its Woodside Connection scheme, but it has not yet commenced consultation.
Lastly, Transport for London has successfully applied for one of its projects, the proposed Silvertown Tunnel in East London, to be ‘upgraded’ into the Planning Act regime. This is the first such application, which requires a direction from the Secretary of State for Transport. The proposed tunnel is part of a package of options being taken forward by London Mayor, Boris Johnson, to improve connectivity in this part of London. The Silvertown Tunnel, targeted for completion by 2021, would alleviate congestion at the nearby Blackwall Tunnel and boost regeneration. It was designated for consent as a NSIP in recognition of the significant impact the new crossing would have on congestion in London and consequently on economic growth and development in the capital and across the UK as a whole.
Bircham Dyson Bell is advising the promoters of all these schemes.
HIGHWAY PROJECT THRESHOLD PROBLEMS...
The complex threshold for deciding whether a highway is nationally significant is still causing uncertainty with project promoters, who risk committing a criminal offence if they don’t use the Planning Act regime when they should have done. Some project promoters are trying to come below the threshold and thereby avoid the regime, but it is a question of law rather than choice so this may prove difficult.
…AND A POSSIBLE SOLUTION
The ‘upgrading’ process undertaken by Transport for London may also be an option for promoters who do not mind which regime they use but do not want to risk the additional time and money involved in making an application under one regime, only then to be told that they should have used the other. An ‘upgrade’ application would put the choice of regime beyond doubt.