Today's entry reports on further delays to the National Networks National Policy Statement.

The suite of National Policy Statements (NPSs) forms the basis for the declaration of need and for the assessment of impacts of the nationally significant infrastructure projects covered by the Planning Act 2008.

The Act covers 16 types of project, and so far there are NPSs in place for 10 of these - six covering the eight types of energy project, one for ports and one for waste water. For a table of the correspondence between NPSs and projects, see this blog entry.  There is a further NPS in draft that will cover hazardous waste projects.  The remaining six types of project are highways, railways, strategic rail freight interchanges (SRFIs), airports, water transfer and dams/reservoirs.

An airport NPS and water supply NPS are looking unlikely, partly due to the expected absence of projects of those types coming forward.  There are indeed none of those types amongst live and forthcoming projects on the Planning Inspectorate's list. Perhaps there should be NPSs anyway, but that's another story. [Stop press: an airport project has appeared today]

That leaves highways, railways and SRFIs, which are all due to be covered by a single NPS, the so-called National Networks NPS.  In this case there are actual projects under consideration and anticipated: there is a live highways project and four anticipated ones, two live railway projects and four anticipated ones, and three anticipated SRFI projects - constituting 20% of all projects and 25% of live ones.

The Planning Act is therefore not working as intended for the live applications, as there is not even a draft statement of whether the projects are needed, and no list of impacts that promoters should address in their applications and the Planning Inspectorate should assess when examining them.  The key test for refusing an application, whether the impacts outweigh the benefits, will be all the more difficult to ascertain if the basis for neither side of the equation has been set down.

Where is the National Networks NPS, you may therefore ask?  In the first 'route map' of timings in July 2009, the then government gave a date of 'autumn 2009' for this.  If we take the midpoint of autumn as 5 November, then that was just over 900 days ago.  That is no small delay.  First, incorporating High Speed 2 was given as the reason for the delay.  Then, the 2010 election intervened and the government changed, causing further delay.  By the end of 2011, we were told that the NNNPS was finally 'imminent'.  That remained the case until March this year.

I now understand that it is no longer imminent.  The reasons given are twofold: that the Prime Minister's office is taking an interest, and also that updated policy on roads is about to be proposed.  In November 2011 policy on SRFIs broke away and was updated, looking something like the text that would appear in the NNNPS.  It seems that roads are to follow suit with new policy but this time we will have to wait for the NNNPS as a result.

There is certainly a lot of roads activity at the moment - see our recent newsletter - but that does not necessary mean delaying the NPS. There will always be forthcoming changes to policy - waiting until policy is settled would mean waiting for ever.  The criticism of prematurity was levelled by the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee against the energy NPSs but the government finalised them anyway.  And this isn't even the hardest transport policy - aviation is surely more difficult.

The further delay is regrettable, and means that three live projects will be examined in a vacuum.