Looking through the NSIP crystal ball

Ben Lewis, infrastructure and energy director at Barton Willmore

Due to their complex nature, nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) can take some time to reach the planning stage and some will not make it through the application process. Ben Lewis looks at his crystal ball to see what 2018 might have in store.

We all know that NSIPs (nationally significant infrastructure projects) are large scale, complex development projects subject to a consenting process enshrined in the Planning Act 2008 (as subsequently amended).  Typically, the applications for the projects are prepared by teams of (very skilled) consultants assisted by equally skilful lawyers.  

Given the costs and risks involved in the development consent order (DCO) process, promoters like the security of a definitive date for submission as they will know that approximately 16 months later they will have a shiny new DCO in their hands (obviously a small number of schemes have had delayed decisions, but these are the exception rather than the norm).  Equally, the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) like to have some visibility of likely submissions dates so that they can ensure appropriate levels of resource are available for these projects to proceed through acceptance, examination and decision.  

However, the timings of large, complex development projects have a habit of being something of a moving feast - an unavoidable characteristic of a project with so many inter-related elements!  Not all schemes will experience slippage (due to a range of factors including unforeseen technical issues, scheme amendments in light of consultation, stakeholder objections, land ownership issues, etc), and some will submit a slightly under-cooked application in order to meet an artificially imposed submission deadline (we all know the ones!).  

Here at Barton Wilmore we thought it would be fun to look into the crystal ball to see how many NSIPs are due to land at PINs in 2018, based on published timescales at the time of writing and then look back on this at the start of 2019 to see how many made it across the application finish line.  

In 2017, there were five new submissions and seven decisions   So we, like the rest of the sector, are hoping for an uplift of this trend in the year ahead.  

In 2018, the NSIP year planner of likely submissions looks like this:

This suggests a total of 33 applications for NSIPs are expected to be made this year, with 12 pencilled in for Q2, and Highways England the busiest applicant with no less than ten schemes scheduled for submission this year!  Excitingly, 2018 will also be a year of firsts. The first two business and commercial projects (Sunderland IAMP and the London Resort) and the regime’s first solar farm are scheduled for submission before the end of the year.  

We are well aware that these timescales have been provided by project promoters to PINS, with all the best intentions, however, it is clear that a number of these will not make it across the submission finish line.  We suspect that none of the proposed tidal lagoon schemes will make it anywhere near application stage until a decision is forthcoming on Swansea Bay.  As for the others, that is a little bit more difficult to call, and I do not intend to name any particular schemes, but you do wonder if some of those that have slotted submission in within three months of statutory consultation ending will make it, particularly if you allow for draft document review by PINS – a crucial step (in my view) towards a less tortuous examination.  

Of the 33 applications identified for submission in 2018, we therefore predict that only 16 will make it through the doors of Temple Quay – so just over twice as many as were submitted in 2017.  Of those, we predict eight will be energy projects, seven will be transport-related, and one will be a business and commercial project.  You may think that this sounds pessimistic but preparing and submitting a DCO is not a walk in the park.  

I’ll leave you to guess which ones will make it . . . 

Ben Lewis is infrastructure and energy director at Barton Willmore.