Insider view - planning a major infrastructure project in the UK


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Interviewer: Christian, big infrastructure projects have been the subject of much discussion, why are they so important?Christian Drage: In a word, growth. We are a fast moving economy and we’ve got a lot of issues around the delivery infrastructure, we are trying to get a northern power house going but we have to connect that with the south east which has been in a mini boom recently - so how do we deliver the roads, the energy and the other infrastructure needed? Well, part is about investment but we really also need a system to deliver the necessary consents and that's where the planning system can come in and help.Interviewer: And that’s where it has often though been accused of being far too slow.Christian Drage: They have. And to an extent that’s a bit unfair, there are lots of reasons why infrastructure doesn’t come forward but planning has its role to play and indeed it could be quicker. There’s a lot of bureaucracy, there’s a lot of unknowns and uncertainties around planning not just about the decision but also the way its handled throughout the process, I think that’s where planning is coming under most criticism.Interviewer: And NSIPs or Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects are rather different, how are they fared?Christian Drage: They are fared better. The thing investors and developers like about the NSIP regime is the certainty over time table. You’ve got a much better idea of when you are going to get a decision and how long it’s going to take to get that decision and the government promotes that as a very positive but what you mustn’t forget is the upfront work that goes into that before you get into that certain timetable. There’s the uncertainty. There is a lot of upfront work and a lot of work to be done which is costly and complex.Interviewer: So to be clear residential schemes don’t count as NSIPs do they?Christian Drage: No they’re not. Should they be? I think there is a good argument for them to be included. Certainly, I think residential delivery needs a [game] changer. We’re not building enough houses, we know it’s essential to the continual growth of the country and the economy. But doesn’t the existing planning system already do that? Well, we’ve got regimes such as Garden Cities around the corner and we’ve been involved in schemes such as Ebsfleet where they are using local development orders – are they not good enough? Well, some people say very very large residential schemes should be classed as nationally significant infrastructure projects because of their size. The problem is there are some downsides of using the regimes.Interviewer: But what are the upsides?Christian Drage: The biggest upside have to be the timetable. The certainty of knowing when you are going to get a decision. You also get a one stop shop. You can include lots of other ancillary consents, compulsory purchase powers and things that a developer would really like to have dealt with in one go. But by far the biggest downside is the complexity and we mustn’t forget the upfront work that goes in, we have certainty over the timetable once the application goes in but the upfront work can take a long time, its complex, its costly. Furthermore, residential really is about homes for people. Planning is people, people is politics. Politics get in the way and I’m not so certain that large residential schemes are that significant any more than they are locally significant because they are for people and we have to make sure that you deal with communities. So, when you are working out your planning application it’s still going to be incredibly important to engage with local communities and stakeholders and carry them along with you, because if you don’t get the consultation right not only might that jeopardise your decision but if you get one, and its favourable, it might be procedurally vulnerable

In this video Christian Drage, Partner in Planning and Environment, introduces the importance of big infrastructure projects in the UK’s growing economy and the possible causes for delay in planning and delivering a major project.

Christian also discusses the background of planning a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) and why investors and developers may prefer the NSIP route when the circumstances are right. What are the positives and negatives for the UK housing market that residential projects are not currently classified as NSIP developments and how might that change post-election?

Watch Christian unpick this issue and others in this short video.

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