Today’s Autumn Statement includes announcements on steps to speed up the planning system for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs). Some of these steps are informed by the work of the National Infrastructure Commission, and related work by Nick Winser, the government’s Electricity Networks Commissioner (and also a National Infrastructure Commissioner).
Responding to today’s announcements, Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said:
“Speeding up the planning process for major infrastructure projects is vital to achieving net zero, improving climate resilience and boosting economic growth.
“Government’s endorsement of a strategic spatial approach to the energy transmission network is a big step forward, and we welcome the ambition to get decisions on major projects made within two and half years, down from the current average of over four years.
“To achieve this ambition, government must urgently finalise a new set of clear, updated national policy statements for energy and transport and progress the other Commission recommendations it has adopted. While there are indications of progress on promoting greater access to environmental data, government needs to go further to provide firm commitments and timeframes for data sharing and to support the development of mitigations that benefit multiple projects in key sectors and locations.
“Industry and investors will be watching to ensure government moves from commitments to action. There’s no time to lose.”
In a study published in April 2023, the National Infrastructure Commission recommended a range of measures to speed up the planning regime for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), to which government has responded formally today.
The Commission’s proposals included five-yearly reviews of National Policy Statements; a clear menu of direct benefits for communities hosting major infrastructure schemes; a central coordination and oversight mechanism for NSIPs reporting to the Prime Minister or the Chancellor; and the introduction of an environmental data sharing platform by the end of 2024, with the establishment of a library of effective environmental mitigations for different kinds of infrastructure by the end of 2025. Government has accepted the first three principles but has not fully adopted the Commission’s recommendations on environmental assessments.
In the Second National Infrastructure Assessment last month, the Commission set out the scale of public and private investment needed to meet major economic and environmental goals over the next 30 years. The Commission calculates that a sizeable portion of that investment – at least £30bn per year – will need to be consented for through the NSIPs regime.
Government also announced today that it will ask the Commission to undertake studies on connected and autonomous vehicles and mobility; and the future of the electricity distribution network (5.91 and 5.98 of Policy Decisions section of Autumn Statement document). More details on the scope of these studies will be published shortly.