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Infrastructure planning needs a reboot, says National Infrastructure Commission

Energy, Transport & Infrastructure

Last week, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) published its final report providing recommendations on how to improve the infrastructure planning system for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs).  

The report was commissioned back in February amid growing concerns regarding the increasing delays to the planning which has seen the timespan for granting development consent orders increase by 65% between 2012 and 2021.  

Any government reforms, according to the commission, must create a system to deliver infrastructure faster, be better equipped to accommodate changes in technology, provide greater confidence for developers and investors, and improve environmental outcomes and community benefits through good design programmes.  

The key recommendation put forward suggests that the government should introduce a legal requirement for national policy statements (NPSs) on planning for infrastructure to be reviewed every five years. The proposal has been positively received, with Angus Walker, a partner at BDB Pitmans, stating that “the current voluntary system has failed to fulfil the government's original intention to implement such reviews.” 

It was interesting to see recommendations on community benefit which can be a sensitive topic at consultation events whereby residents often express a desire for compensation for hosting such projects within their community. The Commission has suggested the establishment of a national framework for compulsory community benefit which they say will ensure that local communities receive consistent, tangible, and fair benefits when being impacted by national infrastructure projects.  

They also stated that current government strategy of managing benefits entirely on a scheme-by-scheme basis “risks communities failing to understand what they are getting in return.”  

The Commission’s recommendations regarding compensation arrangements for those affected by projects goes beyond current government policy, which does not include options such as subsidies for utility bills or community ownership models. Despite this, local authorities often request such measures from project developers as they see them as tangible benefits that can gain community support for the development.  

Currently, communities may be sceptical about benefit offerings from infrastructure projects, but the Commission's suggested framework aims to put such offerings on a more robust basis. By doing so, this approach could foster a more collaborative relationship between developers and communities, which has been somewhat strained in recent times. 

As the number of NSIP proposals continues to grow, and the decision-making process becomes more protracted, the industry will be eagerly waiting for the government's response. All parties involved in the planning and delivery of these significant infrastructure projects are hopeful that prompt changes to the planning framework will lead to a more efficient delivery of critical infrastructure.