Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) are dealt with under the Planning Act designed to streamline the process for the very big infrastructure applications.
We have been working with a small group of front-runner councils who have been part of the NSIP process in recent years. We have been learning from them how projects of various types work and what councils need to do to be an effective advocate for their places and communities.
We finished the first part of the project in November 2021, concluding that:
- Generally councils thought that the NSIP process works well and the Planning Inspectorate are effective in coordinating what are often big complicated projects. However many people are concerned about the increase in volume and complexity that seems likely, and worried that transparency might be perceived to suffer if the process offered less oversight and input.
- Local Authorities play a different role in the NSIP process - acting more as a facilitator and enabler and not having any decision-making powers. This role ambiguity is accompanied by a wide spectrum of project promoters - some are keen to foster long-term relationships based on trust but others are simply interested in getting and then selling on a consent.
- The issue of resourcing the process is critical for local authorities. NSIPs are not accoompanied by a fee, so unless the developer agrees to pay the council's costs engagement comes at a price. There are no simple answers here - we found that the answer could only be to set out the value of the local authorities participation including at post-consent stages.
- NSIPs are some of the biggest and most complicated projects around and councils have found it a challenge to understand the demands of the process and how it peaks and troughs at key stages. Effective project management requires coordination and delegation to allow responses and inputs to be collated quickly. This was felt keenly by local authorities but also by some other statutory consultees.
- The length and complexity of project documentation is an enormous barrier. In part, this is a consequence of NSIPs being primarily a written process but at times it can feel that changes and updates are a barrier to understanding the current state of play and are a particular barrier to organisations like parish councils who have limited time to engage.
We have continued to work with those councils who are already engaged with the NSIP process, and run a regular catch-up where we discuss emerging topics and progress on some projects funded by DLUHC as part of their innovation and capacity fund. Recent topics include thinking about the principle of community benefit, and how the process works post consent.
If you would like to join the group - either because your council is already handling an NSIP project or because you are expecting one in the future, contact Richard Crawley for details.