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Chancellor’s Autumn statement & the national infrastructure plan – what does it mean for planning?

Autumn leaves Print publication

08/12/2014

The Chancellor’s annual Autumn Statement was delivered to Parliament on 3 December 2014 (the Statement). The day before, on 2 December 2014, the Government published the latest incarnation of its National Infrastructure Plan (NIP 2014). Such plans have been published or updated every year since 2010, outlining the Government’s long-term plans for investment in UK infrastructure. The Statement and NIP 2014 highlight a number of changes proposed by the Coalition as part of the last ‘push’ before the General Election in May 2015. Walker Morris’ Planning & Environment team provide a brief overview of the proposals likely to impact on the current planning regime.

Autumn Statement

A key element in the Statement was the Government’s commitment to releasing sufficient land for up to 150,000 homes between 2015 and 2020. The intention is to release public sector land to meet this housing requirement. The following specific projects are also to proceed, as part of the ongoing drive to meet the country’s housing shortfall:

  • The first new garden city for almost 100 years will be built at Ebbsfleet, with the Government providing the initial £100 million to fund the necessary infrastructure and land remediation to start the development process (subject to due diligence).
  • Regeneration projects at Grahame Park, Blackwall Reach, Aylesbury Estate and New Union Wharf have all been approved for funding under the £150 million estates’ regeneration fund (again, subject to contractual negotiations and due diligence).
  • Redevelopment of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will go ahead, with government investment of up to £141 million.
  • Developments comprising up to 13,000 new homes will be supported in Bicester.

The Statement also highlighted the Government’s plans to ensure the principle of development only has to be established once, limiting the opportunities for new development proposals to be continually challenged or decisions to be delayed. The hope is this will increase certainty and enable locally-supported development to proceed quickly. Actions proposed include as follows:

  • Ongoing review of the time-frames within which major applications are decided, so the minimum expected is for 50 percent of major decisions to be made ‘on time’.
  • Publication of data indicating how local authorities are performing under their statutory duty to process small planning applications in an eight-week ‘window’.
  • Liaison with local authorities and the development industry to consider what can be done to support approval for development of small sites within the current planning regime.
  • Introduction of steps to speed-up negotiations on Section 106 Agreements, including revision of existing guidance, consultation on quicker processes for reaching agreements, the introduction of timescales for Agreements, and improved transparency vis-a-vis how funds from Section 106 Agreements are utilised.
  • Publication of proposals (to be consulted upon) for changes to the existing compulsory purchase regime. The intention here is that the process will be clearer, fairer, quicker and enable more brownfield land to be developed.

NIP 2014

The Statement confirmed a number of measures already unveiled in NIP 2014. NIP 2014 essentially focuses on proposals relating to the country’s road, rail, aviation, energy, communications, water and waste provisions. However, it acknowledges that improved infrastructure delivery and performance across both the private and public sectors can only be achieved if there is improved speed and efficiency within the planning process – enabling suitable tracking, delivery and the right overall conditions for sustainable growth.

NIP 2014 firstly highlights steps taken within the current Parliament as part of the Government’s aims to improve the planning system. These include:

  • introduction of the presumption in favour of sustainable development;
  • establishment of the Major Infrastructure Unit at the Planning Inspectorate, to speed-up major infrastructure project applications;
  • introduction of the new Planning Court to quicken the planning judicial review process;
  • streamlining of planning policy and guidance with the National Planning Practice Guidance;
  • alteration of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects planning regime following consultation;
  • improved training and practice to bring heightened consistency in examination hearings;
  • reduction of the timeframe within which applications are initially published, allowing greater opportunity for documents to be studied without impacting on the broader timescales; and
  • publication of a prospectus to aid the pre-application process and encourage early consultation between developers and the Planning Inspectorate.

These recent changes are seen to have had a positive effect – NIP 2014 simply states: “These reforms are working”. In addition, it is noted that “early outcomes from the government’s new Planning Court show a significant reduction in the time taken to deal with Judicial Review cases”.

However, in outlining the Government’s plans to quicken the end-to-end planning process to 2020, little more detail is provided than in the Autumn Statement. Only in relation to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure regime is detail provided, noting the Government’s intention to take forward work to (amongst other things):

  • bring more non-planning consents into the Development Consent Order (DCO) regime;
  • consult in 2015 on options for combining the two-stage process whereby written and relevant representations will form a single, longer stage;
  • ensure a more proportionate process for handling post-consent changes to DCOs; and
  • clarify guidance on what is expected as Preliminary Environmental Information and how changes to proposals can be made during examinations.

Of particular note from an environmental perspective, it appears there will also be significant work going forward in relation to flood defences. Within the NIP 2014, the Government has outlined its intention to invest in a six-year flood defence programme. Approximately £2.3 billion of capital funding, provided at the 2013 spending round, will be allocated to the project. Over 1,400 schemes are to receive funding, with benefits for notable high-risk areas in Oxford, Lowestoft, the Humber and along the River Thames.

For more advice, contact the Planning & Environment Team at Walker Morris.

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