News story

Major infrastructure stays on fast-track as planning quango closes

A new democratic, fast track system for decision making on major infrastructure projects to support the UK’s return to economic growth, was …

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A new democratic, fast track system for decision making on major infrastructure projects to support the UK’s return to economic growth, was announced today by Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark.

Mr Clark confirmed that the Infrastructure Planning Commission - a quango with the power to approve major infrastructure projects - will be abolished in line with the Coalition Agreement.

It will be replaced with a new rapid and accountable system where Ministers, not unelected commissioners, will take the decisions on new infrastructure projects critical to the country’s future economic growth.

A Major Infrastructure Planning Unit will be established in the Planning Inspectorate to continue fast-tracking major infrastructure projects like offshore windfarms and nuclear power stations. Ministers will take decisions on applications within the same statutory fast-track timeframe as the current regime.

In addition, all National Policy Statements (NPS), the Government’s future infrastructure blueprints, will now be subject to ratification by Parliament. Ministers believe these critically important national documents must have the strongest possible democratic legitimacy.

Greg Clark said:

New infrastructure is critical to the country’s return to economic growth and we believe we must have a fast track system for major projects - but it must be accountable.

The previous system lacked any democratic legitimacy by giving decision making power away to a distant quango on issues crucial to every community in the country.

Today the coalition is remedying those deficiencies by putting in place a new fast track process where the people’s elected representatives have responsibility for the final decisions about Britain’s future instead of unelected commissioners.

Energy Minister Charles Hendry added:

A fast and efficient planning system is critical for facilitating investment in much needed new energy infrastructure. By abolishing the Infrastructure Planning Commission we will ensure that vital energy planning decisions are democratically accountable.

New primary legislation will be brought forward to close the IPC. Until it is in place the IPC will continue to consider and determine applications as National Policy Statements are designated to ensure there is no delay in handling applications.

Notes to Editors

1. Abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission

The Government wants a planning system for major infrastructure which is rapid, predictable and accountable. However decisions on major infrastructure applications should not be taken by an unelected quango. They should be made by Ministers. Abolishing the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission will reintroduce democratic accountability in line with the Coalition Agreement:

We will abolish the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission and replace it with an efficient and democratically accountable system that provides a fast-track process for major infrastructure projects.

The intention is therefore to establish a Major Infrastructure Planning Unit as part of the Planning Inspectorate - an existing agency of Communities and Local Government - which will retain the strengths of the streamlined processes and the experience of the Planning Inspectorate. The Government will put these changes into effect as soon as possible. In the interim, the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the Planning Inspectorate will consider how they can work together and identify efficiency savings.

2. National Policy Statements

The coalition is committed to openness and transparency and it follows that planning decisions should be taken within a clear policy framework, and within clear time limits, making these decisions as predictable as possible. The Government will therefore be pressing ahead with the development of National Policy Statements and will issue a more detailed statement on them later in the summer.

The Government also wants to ensure that National Policy Statements, and the decisions that will be based upon them, are as robust as possible, thus minimising the risk of successful judicial review, particularly by those wishing to abuse the system. The decision-making framework for major infrastructure should have the strongest possible democratic legitimacy. National Policy Statements should be ratified by Parliament. National Policy Statements are critically important documents and they should be subject to public consultation with appropriate local and community engagement, and both scrutinised and ratified by Parliament before designation.

3. Transitional arrangements

Until new legislation is in place the Infrastructure Planning Commission will continue in its present role until it is abolished. During this interim period, should an application reach decision-stage and where the relevant National Policy Statement has been designated, the Infrastructure Planning Commission will decide the application. If an application reaches decision stage and the relevant National Policy Statement has not been designated, the Infrastructure Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State, who will take the decision.

For those applications under active consideration by the Infrastructure Planning Commission when it is abolished, transitional provisions will enable the examination of such applications to continue without interruption, through a seamless transfer to the new Major Infrastructure Planning Unit. There is no question of applications having to restart the process and we intend that the statutory timetable for decision-taking will be no longer than the current regime.

The Government wants to have National Policy Statements in place as rapidly as possible. The Government intends to complete the process for making the Energy (including Nuclear) National Policy Statements, which are part-way through the scrutiny process, and will bring forward revised final texts and ask Parliament to ratify them. Plans for how to take forward the remaining National Policy Statements under development will be published in a more detailed implementation plan - including transitional arrangements and a revised timetable - later in the summer.

Published 29 June 2010