Back in April, the government published draft revised guidance for the Planning Act regime and launched a consultation exercise. I submitted the response of the National Infrastructure Planning Association (NIPA), which can be found here. The Department for Communities and Local Government had planned to issue the final updated guidance earlier this month, and last week as a respondent I received an update from the light touch review team.
It's all hands on deck with the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, whose second reading is tomorrow (and on which I hope to report on Wednesday). This means that the publication of the final guidance to conclude the light touch review has been delayed. The government is aiming to publish two of the six new guidance documents before Christmas - those on pre-application consultation and associated development - and the other four next year - fees, application forms, examination of applications and compulsory acquisition.
In fact the update says that the priority is "both the recently introduced Growth and Infrastructure Bill and changes to expand the 'one stop shop' approach for consents for the major infrastructure regime". This is good news because the current draft of the Bill does not contain any further measures to combine consents to create a true 'one stop shop' for the regime, and is an indication that this area is being worked on just as much as the Bill itself. I speculate, but it may be the case that the Bill will be amended during its passage through parliament to include any one-stop shop measures that require primary legislation.
The measures I have in mind are those in the Planning Act itself that were put there to address the 'democratic deficit' that the independent Infrastructure Planning Commission was percieved to have had. There is a series of certification requirements which currently means that the same issue of acquiring statutory undertakers' land could be looked at four times:
- the main examination of the application,
- obtaining a certificate from the Secretary of State that the land can be taken without serious detriment to the undertaking,
- obtaining a certificate from the Secretary of State that the taking of the land is necessary for the project, and
- special parliamentary procedure.
Now that the IPC has been abolished, these checks and balances are no longer necessary. The Bill currently removes the last one, but not the second and third, which require going to different secretaries of state depending on the undertaker that is affected.
With regard to the second bullet point, it was only on 18 October that all three of the relevant Secretaries of State had delegated consideration of that issue back to the Planning Inspectorate on their behalf to allow it to be done during the main examination (but still identifiably separate from it). As far as the third is concerned, there is no guidance at all as to how the process works and no delegation in force, so it is a bit of a grey area at the moment.
Let us hope that future generations of infrastructure projects will not have to worry about such matters as there will be a true one-stop shop consenting process, or near as dammit.