Whilst many of us were on summer holiday the energy National Policy Statements (NPSs) were busy being finalised. Designation took place on 19 July 2011 with them setting out the criteria by which applications for Development Consent Orders for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects will be determined. First published in November 2009 they survived a General Election, two public consultations and parliamentary scrutiny before getting over the finishing line.

If you cast your mind back to last year’s summer holiday, you may remember that the then recently elected coalition Government heralded a number of changes to the new infrastructure planning regime introduced by the Planning Act 2008. In particular, it talked loudly about a re-focusing of accountability. It objected to such important decisions being made by an unelected “unaccountable quango” and, for a time, the shape and future of the new planning regime looked uncertain.

When, however, the Localism Bill was published in December 2010, the changes proposed were not as far reaching as many had expected. Apart from the NPSs having to be approved by Parliament and the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) being replaced by the relevant Secretary of State as the decisionmaker, the new development consent regime was to be left largely intact.

However, despite talk of a new “Major Infrastructure Planning Unit” being put in place to replace the IPC, this name does not appear in the Localism Bill, so some mystery remains as to the name of the unit to whom promoters will be applying under the new regime.

What we do know is that:

  • The new unit is an examining body which, instead of making decisions on applications for Development Consent Orders, will be making recommendations to the relevant Government Minister;
  • The unit is to sit within the Government’s Planning Inspectorate;
  • Sir Michael Pitt, the current Chair of the IPC, has also become the Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate;
  • The team of IPC Commissioners is also to move across until at least 2014; and
  • There is talk of a fully integrated Planning Inspectorate.

Comment

Whilst many welcomed the idea of parliamentary scrutiny of the draft NPSs, there is little doubt that the long and drawn out process of fixing the goal posts has caused difficulties for promoters.

In parallel, the Localism Bill has been moving through Parliament. It has passed through the House of Commons and the House of Lords report stage started on 5 September.

The new Act is due to be enacted in November and to come into effect on 1 April 2012.