We are the UK Government’s independent adviser on sustainable development. Through advocacy, advice and
appraisal, we help put sustainable development at the heart of Government policy
The passing of the Planning Act 2008 which provided for a new single consent regime for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. The Act provided for the introduction of new National Policy Statements setting out government policy for energy, transport, waste and water infrastructure.
National infrastructure is a central part of the lives of each and every one of the UK’s 60 million citizens. Whether it be for energy, clean water, management of waste or transport, every person within the UK is to a greater or lesser extent dependent on the services our national infrastructure provides. The UK’s infrastructure is central to the nation’s social progress and economic prosperity and the manner in which it is provided has the potential to greatly influence the natural and historic environment and in turn our ability to live within environmental limits.
Other organisations involved in this project?
None directly (Parliamentary Committee on Energy and Climate Change, DfT, CLG, DECC and Defra were contacted for comment)
The policy regime for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects as set out by the previous Labour Government and subsequent revisions by the Coalition Government.
A desk based review was carried out to of the National Policy Statements in order to assess the ability of the policy regime to deliver its stated aim of sustainable development. A set of criteria that projects should conform too to deliver on this aim was formulated.
A short document containing the SDC’s critique of the regime and the framework of criteria was published. Relevant government departments were invited to make comments.
The planning regime has often been criticised for lacking a joined-up and coherent approach to delivering much needed nationally significant infrastructure projects. These qualities need to be essential elements of a regime that the Department of Energy and Climate Change has tasked with delivering £200 billion of investment in energy infrastructure alone by 2020. At this time of economic challenge, the UK’s current and future population deserves to maximise the economic, environmental and social benefits from such investment. For this to happen, the reforms of the Planning Act 2008 and outlined in the Localism Bill, National Infrastructure Work Plan and the much anticipated “simple and consolidated national planning framework covering all forms of development” need to be joined up with a view to delivering sustainable development, not just development.
Who should read this?
Government departments (CLG, DECC, Defra, DfT), Parliamentary Committee’s (ECCC, EAC), Environment Agency, infrastructure providers, Infrastructure Planning Commission / Major Infrastructure Planning Unit.
It is the SDC’s view that the current regime still fails to meet these criteria and therefore the SDC, has been critical of the approach taken in NPS development. The three principal concerns are:
- The weakness of the Appraisals of Sustainability, particularly as regards the appraisal of alternatives policy options within the NPSs
- That, with the exception of the Nuclear NPS, they are not spatial plans
- That, whilst required to pay regard to the cumulative impacts of individual applications, neither the IPC nor its successor is explicitly required to assess the potentially significant damaging cumulative impacts of all nationally significant infrastructure projects over time.
The SDC endorses the recommendation of the Energy and Climate Change Committee that “the Government has set out on important, but potentially disruptive or even conflicting, reforms of the planning system in relative isolation from each other....The various changes to the planning system should be complementary. We therefore recommend that the development of the National Planning Framework and the National Infrastructure Plan, and the enactment of the Localism Bill, should be coordinated.”
- The SDC supports the recommendation taken by the Energy and Climate Change Committee that Government should, as a minimum, publish a list of criteria against which a decision contrary to the advice of the IPC or MIPU could be taken by a Secretary of State. Furthermore, the reasons underlying a specific decision should also be clearly set out.
- In addition to the Committee’s recommendation for the “Secretary of State being aware of the volume and kind of capacity already consented and under construction” , we recommend that Government sets out a clear process for monitoring and reporting the cumulative impacts of the totality of all the infrastructure projects.
- The SDC has devised a series of tests to assess the sustainability of infrastructure projects. We recommend that these tests be used to question or challenge the sustainability of future NSIP applications and that the IPC, and its successor, ensures this approach is adopted.