There is some media interest in the story about Natural England being converted into a delivery agency for “sustainable” development today.
The Tory(?)graph got it wrong, as usual, as it suggested the new restrictions were on time limits for responses to applications for planning consents. The Penfold Review was of non-planning consents – things like SSSI legislation, species protection and EIA regulations.
Any planning wonks out there? It would be useful to post a comprehensive list of environmental non-planning consents.
Here’s the BBC’s take on the story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-15969592
This is the Section of the National Infrastructure Plan which I mentioned yesterday but wasn’t able to download. I’ve emboldened the sections which look most significant for Natural England.
Improving the planning and consenting regime
6.3 The Infrastructure Cost Review, published by HM Treasury in December 2010, found that a major reason for the high cost of building infrastructure in the UK, compared with other countries, was the delay and costs related to the UK’s planning and consenting process.
6.4 This process is complex and stems from numerous different pieces of legislation. Planning consents for projects that fall within the definitions set by the 2008 Planning Act will be determined through the major infrastructure planning process. All other projects will be determined by the relevant Local Planning Authority or Authorities through the Town and Country planning process.
6.5 Infrastructure projects in both processes may also require additional consents related to the development typically related to issues such as heritage, highways or the environment. These ‘non-planning’ consents are determined by local authorities and various statutory bodies such as the Environment Agency and Natural England. The Infrastructure Cost Review noted that these third party consents contributed significantly to the costs of delivering infrastructure. For example, for road construction, environmental regulations and related third party consents add as much as 15 per cent to the cost of the infrastructure.
Existing programme of planning reforms
6.6 The Government is already taking steps to simplify the planning process and improve accountability.
6.7 The Government is simplifying the Town and Country planning process in England by introducing the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). A presumption in favour of sustainable development sits at the heart of the draft NPPF, requiring a positive approach to be taken to plan-making (so that they accommodate identified needs) and to decisions on individual planning applications. Part of the positive approach taken within the NPPF includes a commitment to maintaining national green belt protection, as it plays a valuable role in stopping urban sprawl and provides a green lung around towns and cities. A public consultation on the draft NPPF was completed in October.
6.8 The Government has also enacted proposals to improve the major infrastructure planning process in England and Wales so that decisions on projects are taken at a national strategic level. The Localism Bill 2011will abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), with its function taken over by the Planning Inspectorate. Under these changes final decisions on projects will be taken by the Secretary of State, although the basic elements of the major infrastructure regime will remain unchanged and will continue to deliver major benefits such as the statutory timescales that bring certainty to the developers.
Implementing the Penfold Review of non-planning consents
6.9 The Government is building on these existing reforms and has developed a package of options to implement the recommendations made by the Penfold Review, which reported in July 2010. The focus of this work has been on the key consenting and advisory agencies (Environment Agency, Natural England, English Heritage, Highways Agency, and the Health and Safety Executive). In addition to the consenting role of some of these agencies, they all play a key role in providing advice on a large number of planning applications.
6.10 To provide a consistent framework and to send a signal of intent to business, the Government will ensure the key consenting and advisory agencies have a remit to promote sustainable development.
6.11 The change will be made as soon as the National Planning Policy Framework is finalised, and will ensure that these bodies are alive to the impact of their decisions upon sustainable economic growth and on economically significant projects, as well as the environmental and social aspects of sustainability, and that they swiftly approve consents when it is appropriate to do so.
6.12 In addition to this, the Government will:
• simplify a number of heritage, highways and environmental non-planning consents, with some scrapped altogether. This will begin early 2012;
• introduce a 13 week maximum timescale for the majority of non-planning consents, to speed up the consenting process and give certainty to developers. This will take immediate effect for Government agencies; and
• make it easier to apply for consents. This will include providing information and links on key non-planning development consents closely associated with planning permission on the Planning Portal (these changes go live from April 2012).
6.13 A statement on the progress on implementing the Penfold Review recommendations is being published alongside the Autumn Statement.
Further reforms to the role of statutory consultees
6.14 In addition to the proposals set out in the Penfold Review, the Government has been examining further means of ensuring that statutory bodies’ working practices can be improved to deliver timely, informed and proportionate advice.
6.15 The Government will bring forward measures to be implemented in summer 2012 to ensure that there is a more effective mechanism for applicants obtaining an award of costs, if there is an appeal against a refusal of planning permission, where a statutory consultee has acted unreasonably. In the longer term, the Government will work to extend this principle to the pre-application phase of the major infrastructure planning process.
6.16 The Government will bring forward proposals to improve the performance of the key statutory consultees in responding to applications and measures for consultation on strengthening existing time-limits for the provision of responses on planning applications. This will include the key statutory bodies bringing forward an improvement plan by spring 2012.
6.17 The Government will also:
• accompany the amendments to remits proposed as part of the Penfold Review with a requirement that the bodies demonstrate the role they are playing in supporting sustainable development. The Government will consider provisions to ensure progress is reported back to Ministers;
• strengthen relationship management by the bodies with major developers. The Government will consider proposals to provide a named relationship manager at board level for the largest 25 developers that statutory consultees interact with; and
• increase the transparency of the key statutory consultee bodies. The Government will consider measures to publish staff instructions, increase the detail of performance statistics and increase the use of satisfaction surveys.
Other actions to improve the planning process for infrastructure
Infrastructure Planning Legacy Cases
6.18 The Government has made good progress in completing the infrastructure planning cases within the legacy case backlog, with eight projects granted consent worth a total of £4 billion, including a large 245MW offshore wind power scheme off the Yorkshire Coast, and a scheme to improve the A1 at Elkesley.
6.19 The Government will continue to work to clear the backlog and to this end both the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Transport have committed to determining backlog cases within 3 months once they are ready for a decision. These projects tend to be complex and progress relies as much on developers and local authorities as central Government.
Major Infrastructure Planning Regime
6.20 The Government is committed to the principles and make-up of the new major infrastructure regime, and to making sure that it operates effectively. Infrastructure projects are now moving through the process, with the first decision made and the application for a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point accepted for examination.
6.21 The Government has therefore undertaken the first stage of a light-touch review of the suite of secondary legislation and guidance for the new major infrastructure regime, to ensure that the process remains current and fit-for purpose. In response to feedback collected from users of the regime, the Government will build more flex into the system, particularly the pre-application phase. The improvements identified in the review will complement the significant changes already made in the Localism Act and will be implemented in early summer 2012. The Government will conduct a formal review of the regime from April 2014 when an evidence base is established.
6.22 The Government recognises there are opportunities to improve the planning appeal process for all parties, especially inquiries. In 2010-11 there were 371 planning inquiries out of nearly 16,000 planning appeals decided.
6.23 Building on previous changes, the Government will speed up the appeals procedure, focussing on the scope to streamline the set of Inquiry Procedure Rules for planning appeals to increase consistency of practice and certainty for investors on decision times: with greater focus on pre-appeal engagement and with greater use of electronic communications to improve the handling of appeals and speed up the sharing of documents between parties. The Government will bring forward measures for implementation in summer 2012.
6.24 In doing so, the Government will ensure there is reasonable time and opportunity for all parties to comply and that the processes remain fair to all.
National Policy Statements
6.25 Progress is continuing in the development of the National Policy Statements (NPS), which provide certainty for users of the major infrastructure regime. The NPSs provide predictability for users of the regime, by setting out the need for major infrastructure for delivering energy needs by 2020 and encouraging growth. Six NPSs, related to energy infrastructure, are now designated, the ports NPS is due to be designated shortly, and the final three are due to be completed in 2012. The waste water NPS will be complete by January, the hazardous waste NPS by the summer and the national networks NPS by the end of 2012. In the interim, the Department for Transport have committed to publishing a draft national networks NPS by the end of 2011, and a joint ministerial statement on strategic rail freight interchange policy, which will be reflected in the national networks NPS, has now been made.
6.26 The European Union’s habitats and wild bird directives protect Europe’s most precious ecosystems, flora and fauna. The Government strongly supports this objective but is keen to ensure that compliance with the directives does not lead to unnecessary costs and delays in the delivery of important, sustainable infrastructure projects, such as offshore wind developments. In order to tackle problems, the Government is reviewing the directives as currently implemented in England by Budget 2012 and has published terms of reference for this work. In addition the Government will:
• establish a Defra-led problem-solving unit to address blockages for developments where compliance with the directives is particularly complex or has large impacts;
• make it easier for businesses to understand what they must do to comply with the directives by improving Natural England’s support and assistance offer to developers and consulting on updated guidance before Budget 2012; and
• give industry representation on a group chaired by Ministers so it can raise concerns deriving from the Directive at the top of Government
6.27 In addition, the Government can announce progress on a number of projects which have been held back by difficulties stemming from the directives:
• the Marine Management Organisation and the Port of Falmouth have agreed a way forward on a scientific trial to resolve environmental issues around development of the harbour. A decision on the developer’s marine licence application will follow if the trial succeeds. If this application is then successful, it is anticipated that development could proceed in early 2013;
• Natural England have confirmed that environmental issues relating to the Habitats Directive need not cause delay to the Able Marine Energy Park, as satisfactory options are available to address the main concerns stemming from the directive; and
• Natural England is working closely with Chiltern Railways to resolve licensing issues at the Wolvercote tunnel by January subject to receipt of satisfactory information from the company.