Planning reforms risk breaking international law

Transport Action Network (TAN) [1] has responded [2] to the Government’s consultation on operational reforms to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) consenting process which ends today [3]. TAN is concerned that the proposed changes, while sensible in parts, are mostly focussed on the wrong areas and will make it harder for local communities to engage with what are already challenging planning processes. As a result, they risk breaking international law.

The time savings from these proposed measures would be relatively modest, compared to what could be saved by addressing other parts of the planning process. Most serious delays are caused by developers consulting with misleading information to the point they have to be re-run. Also by having out of date and poorly developed National Policy Statements which are out of step with the requirements of a rapidly changing world. Additionally, much controversy and challenge could be avoided by having an independent process that considers alternative options alongside proper engagement with stakeholders. Resolving these issues would go much further to speeding up delivery of NSIPs than the changes proposed in this consultation.

Instead, TAN would like to see wider reform, with:

  • a more open and accountable process for drafting National Policy Statements with a commitment for regular reviews (at least every 5 years).
  • greater help given to local communities to be able to properly scrutinise applications and to engage with the process which is currently heavily weighted in favour of the developer.
  • a new independent body to oversee public engagement on NSIPs
  • only development essential for the delivery of net-zero should be eligible to be fast-tracked (e.g. that does not include new roads)

In contrast, these changes would be far better at speeding up the process while enhancing public engagement.

Chris Todd, director of TAN said:

“Despite the fact that not one delay to the planning process is due to the actions of Interested Parties or Examination Authorities, this is the area that the Government has targeted for reform. Yet it is developers and the Government that are causing unnecessary delays and where reform should be focused.

“Consequently, these proposed changes are just tinkering at the edges and fail to address the real issues with the consenting process. Inadequate and misleading consultations are often so bad they have to be re-run, resulting in poor quality applications which attract greater opposition. These combined with badly evidenced and out of date National Policy Statements, then result in significant delays to the Government’s decision making.

“Yet instead of tackling these obvious issues, the Government proposes making it even harder for local communities to engage with applications by shortening already challenging timetables. As the consultation itself acknowledges this risks breaking international law and risks even worse decision making than we have already.”

– ENDS –

Notes to editors:

[1] Transport Action Network (TAN) was established in 2019 to provide free support to people and groups pressing for more sustainable transport in their area, or opposing cuts to bus and rail services and active travel, damaging road schemes and large unsustainable developments.

[2] TAN’s response to the consultation can be found here

[3] The consultation on Operational reforms to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) consenting process ends on Tuesday 19 September, 2023.


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