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Nationally Significant Infrastructure Reform

In 2020, the National Infrastructure Strategy established a government ambition to accelerate and improve the consenting process for major infrastructure projects, including those considered under the Planning Act 2008 (PA2008). These ambitions were reinforced in 2022 within the British Energy Security Strategy. Following an operational review of the PA2008 process, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) published an action plan setting out proposed reforms that would be implemented to ensure the PA2008 process can support the country’s future infrastructure needs. Between July and September 2023, DLUHC consulted on the details of the operational reforms and government’s response to the consultation was published on 6 March 2024. The Planning Inspectorate has been working to respond to the government’s brief, some examples of which are provided below.  

Future pre-application service and fees 

The Planning Inspectorate will establish a new pre-application service for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), consisting of three different tiers: Basic, Standard and Enhanced. Every NSIP must subscribe to one of these tiers at the pre-application stage of the process.  

The Planning Inspectorate will charge applicants for its pre-application service for each of the three tiers, to meet the government’s aim of full cost recovery. The three different pre-application tiers will ensure the process of cost recovery is fair to all applicants. For example, those wishing to have the Basic service from the Planning Inspectorate will pay less than those wanting the Enhanced service.  The Planning Inspectorate will only charge applicants for its pre-application service, it will not charge other stakeholders in the NSIP process. As referenced in DLUHC’s guidance on cost recovery by The Planning Inspectorate and Public Bodies (8 March 2024), the recovery of pre-application fees by the Planning Inspectorate is expected from October 2024.  

From April 2024, DLUHC will publish a tranche of updated guidance reflecting reforms to the NSIP process, after which the Planning Inspectorate will publish an updated Pre-application Prospectus, describing the three different pre-application tiers and the service available. To support with our planning and preparations, following the publication of the Pre-Application Prospectus, an expression of interest process will take place, whereby existing and new applicants will be requested to inform us which tier of pre-application service they would like. Further detail about how each pre-application project will be allocated to a tier will be provided at a later date. 

The Planning Inspectorate will move from publishing advice notes to publishing updated advice pages. These are being revised to meet government and accessibility standards for publishing online content, both to address the needs of specific users and to include certain operational aspects of the government’s reforms to complement new guidance. In addition, more specific advice on newer areas of technology, such as solar, will be published.  

Fast-track route to decision 

A key theme of the NSIP Reform programme is to speed-up decision making. A fast-track route to a decision will be available to projects which have used the Enhanced level of pre-application service and have also satisfactorily met the quality standard. However, not all projects using the Enhanced service will wish to, or be suitable for fast-track, further detail on this is expected to be provided in guidance shortly.  

Proposals which are not aiming for formal designation as a fast-track project will still have their examinations completed in the least amount of time possible.  

National Infrastructure Planning Website 

We have been modernising the National Infrastructure Planning website, which is an essential online hub for information and engagement about NSIPs. We have adopted a staged method of rolling this out, updating specific website components, while maintaining legacy pages as gateways to these new additions. You can read more about the Beta Service

Information Standardisation and Recommendation Reforms 

We have been reviewing how we handle the flow of information, both for individual projects and across technology sectors, to improve efficiency for both the process and for Interested Parties. This will enable us to make better use of new ways of formatting and sharing information ahead of further digitisation of the process. It will also make our recommendations easier to read and more accessible. 

Alongside the new Beta website mentioned above we have reduced the repetition of some information between the final report and elements already in the public domain via the website. This will reduce the volume of text that has to be written, checked and read in the final recommendation. We are increasing the use of graphics to illustrate information, replacing lengthy text descriptions, but still allowing screen readers to access the information for accessibility and convenience.  

Taking account of the latest and emerging National Policy Statement updates we are focusing examination and reporting on the specific policy and legal tests which must be met. This will also involve considering recent changes in environmental law and policy in anticipation of future changes already announced, such as Biodiversity Net Gain.  

These changes are being gradually rolled out across our work and will be seen as Secretary of State decisions are issued and new examinations start throughout 2024.