NSIP – Now Significant for Interested Parties?

By Douglas Johnson, Associate Director

Last week, the Government launched a comprehensive end-to-end review of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning (NSIP) process and all its interactions. It promises to be wide-ranging – but seeks views in part on limits in the capacity or capability of NSIP applicants, interested parties and other participants.

This is interesting, in that it’s a factor beyond the direct scope of the regime. It is also one with an impact that is not necessarily obvious in statistics about the success or failure of DCO applications. These tend to show whether applications are accepted or consented. It is harder to find information on proposals which don’t actually make it to submitting an application.

A lack of capacity or capability in developers is often a major contributor in these cases. The process of securing a DCO is a major organisational commitment and this can be overwhelming for developers – particularly where they haven’t been through the process before. Fortunately, there is a wealth of experience available in individuals and consultancies across the industry that applicants can draw on to mitigate this – where they have funding.

The capacity and capability of interested parties is a more difficult question, particularly local authorities. These have a fixed and formal role in the DCO process, which requires significant resource and expertise to be performed properly. Some local authorities are well set up to meet this challenge. Kent County Council, for example, has dedicated DCO officers with experience of managing the authority’s response to NSIPs.

However, local authority finances are notoriously strained and planning officers do not necessarily have expertise in national infrastructure planning. This can impact on their engagement with developers, the advice they give to members and consequently the local authority’s ability to take part effectively in the process.

Applicants can mitigate this by agreeing a PPA. However, beyond the additional expense for the developer, these can be time-consuming and acrimonious to agree – delaying the point that developers can begin to engage effectively with local authorities and strain working relationships at an early stage. In a system which encourages early and iterative engagement, this is a problem.

The consultation runs until 17 December 2021. If you would like support preparing a response to the consultation, please do get in touch.