This is entry number 20 of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

The Planning Act 2008 gives local authorities a much greater say in applications for national significant infrastructure project authorisations (except the few cases where they would have decided the applications, of course). This blog entry looks at the points at which local authorities will get involved.

Publicity on National Policy Statements

National Policy Statements (NPSs) will set out government policy on nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs). When these are published in draft starting this autumn, local authorities will all be consulted on each one and can respond like anyone else, but they have an additional role if the NPS is ‘locationally specific’. The government has so far confirmed that the Nuclear Power NPS and the Airports NPS will be locationally specific. If a draft NPS specifies particular locations as suitable or potentially suitable for a type of NSIP, then the government must consult the local authorities responsible for the locations concerned, as well as their immediate neighbours, on how to publicise the draft NPS in the local area. It is a fairly minor power but will allow local authorities to be creative in advising the government how it should consult locally – e.g. exhibitions and meetings – and will ensure that they are integral to the local publicity when it occurs.

Local authority land

The remaining powers relate to applications to build individual NSIPs. If an NSIP seeks to acquire land belonging to a local authority, and the promoter of the NSIP is not itself a public body, then if the local authority objects to the application, ‘Special Parliamentary Procedure’ must be followed to authorise the taking of the land. This is an additional step requiring the involvement of Parliament that promoters will want to avoid, and so it could prove useful to local authorities.

Green belt land

If the NSIP is to use land in the Green Belt, then the relevant local authority/ies must be notified. A very minor point, but could be missed, and is noted here in case a recipient local authority wonders why it is being notified.

Pre-application consultation

The local authority/ies where an NSIP is to be situated and their immediate neighbours are included in the list of pre-application consultees – i.e. the promoter must seek their views on a draft application and take them into account before making the application proper.

As with locationally-specific NPSs, local authorities must be consulted on how an application should be publicised locally and must be given 28 days to respond. This will inform the ‘statement of community consultation’ that the promoter is obliged to prepare and publish. If the promoter departs from the advice of a local authority on this issue, then it must give its reasons to the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) when it comes to make the application.

Local authorities have an additional role in that they can submit a report to the IPC on their view of the adequacy of the promoter’s pre-application consultation, which the IPC must take into account in deciding whether to accept or reject the application. Promoters will therefore strive to make sure that local authorities are on side during the pre-application process.

Local impact reports

Perhaps the main role of the local authorities where NSIPs are to be situated and their immediate neighbours is the ability to prepare a ‘Local Impact Report’ on the application and submit it to the IPC. As its name suggests, the local impact report details the likely impact of the project on the authority’s area or part of it, and can set out the extent to which the application accords with the development plan. The IPC must take any Local Impact Reports it receives into account when deciding the application.

Policing

Finally, under the general planning regime, the local authority grants planning permission and then polices its implementation (as well as development without planning permission). Under the new Planning Act regime, although it is the IPC who grants permission (or the Secretary of State if no NPS is in place), it is again up to local authorities to police the implementation of the permission. Local authorities have various powers to ascertain if an NSIP is being built without permission or in breach of its permission.

Thus although they never have a veto, local authorities are involved all the way through the NSIP authorisation process and their engagement will be vital for a successful application.