This is entry number 295, published on 15 November 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog.
Today's entry reports on the forthcoming autumn statement day.
In two weeks' time, the Chancellor George Osborne MP will deliver his autumn statement on the economy, which will be a key date for infrastructure planning and financing. This is because it is expected to be accompanied by:
- a growth strategy,
- the second National Infrastructure Plan, and
- the list of 40 infrastructure projects that will be shepherded through the system by the government
Alongside the autumn statement will be a 'Growth Strategy' document, jointly produced by the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, a George and Vince production. It has already been revealed that this will include a £50bn boost to infrastructure projects, described to include power stations, social housing, super-fast broadband and toll roads.
Reading the small print, however, shows that the £50bn is not going to be government money - it is private investors who will be encouraged to stump up; the government will only be making the conditions right for such investment. The government believes that pension funds and insurance companies have stockpiles of cash that could be used to fund infrastructure. If some of the money does come from the government, it will be accused of switching from 'Plan A' (deficit reduction) to 'Plan B' (investment), or at least Plan A+ (a bit of both).
National Infrastructure Plan
A year and a month ago, the Treasury body Infrastructure UK published the first National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), as reported here. It is expected to publish an update to this, also on autumn statement day. Apparently this is not necessarily going to be an annual event - the next one might not come out for a couple of years.
The second NIP has also been revealed to contain new models for financing infrastructure projects. This time banks are to be expected to fund the development stage of a project (planning and construction) and then pension funds would finance its operation.
The third infrastructure-related announcement to happen on 29 November is expected to be the list of 40 projects that are to be shepherded through the planning system as well as their construction stages. This was foreshadowed back in September and reported in this blog entry. This list may or may not be part of the NIP, but it is to be separate to any projects identified in the Growth Strategy.
The announcement should give details of how the 'acceleration' of such projects will happen, and of particular interest to blog readers will be what happens to any projects that have not yet been consented. Will acceleration involve any legal changes? Maybe not yet, but if the Planning Act regime continues to be sluggish, who knows.
High quality infrastructure with minimal adverse effects is vital to the prosperity of the country and so moves to encourage funding and streamline planning of them are welcome. The two issues are inextricably linked - the more certain the outcome of the application process is in terms of what will and will not be consented and when, the more likely it is that project promoters will make applications and sources of finance will be found to take the risk of funding the development process.
Certainty is not just a question of timing, but also covers the need for the project, whether other consents are required, and what adverse impacts will require what mitigation before an application is approved. This is not just advantageous to project promoters, but also those affected by projects. The Planning Act 2008 regime goes some way to address all of these issues, but it and the associated National Policy Statements could go further. If the government needs any assistance in developing further streamlining then the expertise is there for them to call upon. Just saying.
Incidentally, the government could do a bit of joined-up thinking and combine the shepherding of the 40 named infrastructure projects with the development of a streamlined authorisation process that is compatible with the EU's 'Connecting Europe Framework' proposals for key energy projects, previously reported here.