Local government innovation fund aims to improve NSIP planning process

The fund is for NSIPs – major infrastructure development projects in the areas of energy, transport, water, sewage and waste in England and Wales, which are subject to a special planning process. Developers must obtain a Development Consent Order (DCO) for NSIPs. DCO applications are submitted to the Town Planning Inspectorate. He makes a recommendation to a senior government minister who then decides whether the request should be accepted. However, the process requires developers to consult local authorities affected by their projects on proposed CODs.

The British government is trying to accelerate the delivery of major infrastructure in the country, in line with its “Project Speed” initiative launched in mid-2020 and the national infrastructure strategy published in November of the same year, through of its National Infrastructure Planning Reform Program which began work in June 2021. The new fund is designed to provide financial support to local authorities (LAs) who identify ways to shorten the length of their involvement in the process of NSIP planning or who will otherwise contribute to making NSIPs “greener”.

“We are looking for proposals that promote better and effective engagement with the developer, the Planning Inspectorate and others consulted by law to ensure that the DCO process delivers benefits to local communities in line with the government’s ambitions for a better, faster and greener infrastructure delivery and our mission to upgrade (in this case, to provide economic benefit to local communities through the investment that major infrastructure development offers), said DLUHC.

“We plan to provide grants of up to £100,000 to be used for initiatives that go beyond the work the authority already intends to undertake. Bids that include an element of LA co-funding and/or that demonstrate collaboration between authorities are particularly encouraged but are not required… The proposal should focus on NSIP projects that have already entered or will enter one of the recognized phases (pre-application, acceptance, pre-review or review) in the NSIP process during the period in which the funding is granted (January 2022 to June 2023),” he said.

Local authorities applying for funding must explain how their idea achieves one of the goals listed by the DLUHC, according to department guidelines.

Examples of objectives include: developing innovative approaches to LA engagement with NSIPs; driving innovations that can support greener NSIP projects; the introduction of digital innovations, including digital working methods and/or better use of digital data in the NSIP process; and the development of innovations at different stages of the NSIP process that contribute to better, greener or faster results.

DLUHC said: “The [NSIPs planning] The system is currently experiencing an increased rate of projects entering the system which are more complex than previous projects and require specialist knowledge and experienced personnel to address broader issues such as net zero and net gain of biodiversity. This increase in the quantity and complexity of NSIPs is likely to reduce the rate at which NSIP projects move through the system and lead to delays in Development Consent Order decisions due to poor quality information. or missing.

“The objective of this fund is to explore if and how more efficient use of resources or the provision of additional resources to the main users of the scheme can improve the results of our program through the provision of expertise or innovative work. . This Expression of Interest is an opportunity for Local Authorities (LAs) to apply for funding of up to £100,000 to help them process NSIP applications to address the issues and challenges they face as users keys to the system,” he said.

Local authorities play an important role in the NSIP planning regime, as consulted parties at various stages and in the preparation of the local impact report which must be taken into account when deciding on each individual project. The Spatial Planning Inspectorate’s ‘opinion note 2’ provides guidance on this role, stating that the involvement of local authorities is ‘not compulsory but strongly recommended’. However, it is recognized that resources will be limited and authorities are “strongly encouraged to discuss and resolve issues” that are raised when NSIP proposals are presented. According to the Planning Inspectorate, local authorities can bring an “important local perspective”, in addition to the views of local residents, groups and businesses.

Depending on the nature and scope of the NSIP concerned, several local authorities may be involved and they will most likely become the public body responsible for carrying out many of the planning conditions, called requirements, set out in the DCO. The authorities will also have a monitoring and enforcement role.

Commenting on the announcement, Robbie Owen, planning expert at Pinsent Masons, said: “This is a very welcome development and represents the first material outcome of the review of the NSIP planning regime and the objective The government has declared to improve it by September 2023. It has been said from the start of this scheme that local authorities have been sewn into it at every step, but the reality has been quite different. Resourcing was a real issue and the approach taken by DCO applicants, in the form of planning performance agreements, was very varied.

“Although this new fund will not provide general funding to local authorities for their role in individual NSIPs, it will give local authorities, particularly those in DCO hotspots such as Essex, Kent and Suffolk, the opportunity to bring ideas for reform, innovation and other improvements to the table. It also has real potential to stimulate innovative behavior,” he said.

“The government has not confirmed the total amount of funding available, so it will be interesting to see later this spring how many submissions have received funding. The government has been keen for some time to find ways to engage with local authorities and local communities on the reform of the NSIP regime and this opportunity should sustain their current interest in the reform program and help generate transferable ideas.

Louisa R. Loomis