Anyone who has ever submitted a planning application will know just how convoluted the process is. For those who haven't, you need to watch Season Two of Clarkson's Farm to get an understanding of the level of bureaucracy that is involved in even a relatively minor planning application.
So, one might think that the recent news of a new fast track scheme for certain major infrastructure projects would be met with unyielding excitement. But let's ask a key question here: do you think the new fast track planning regulations that the Government is introducing will go far enough to tackle the planning issues that we face in the UK?
The Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) Action Plan aims to shorten the delivery timescales associated with the planning process for UK infrastructure projects that will improve the transport network, protect our environment and energy security and support plans for achieving Net Zero.
Under these proposals, the Secretary of State would have the power to put shorter deadlines in place for certain qualifying projects. It is not yet known which projects he will be interested in, and indeed, the initial assessment phase to identify potential projects is anticipated to take circa 6 months, with legislative changes not expected to be in place until this time next year.
In order to shorten the timescales for planning applications, it is anticipated that greater levels of detail will be required at the pre-planning stage. In addition, the project assessment period will be shortened, reducing the time available for companies to respond to queries and concerns raised by communities, individuals and other government departments. This change could result in higher up front costs and place a greater focus on the availability of appropriate experts to handle queries raised during the planning application process.
The proposal aims to involve greater levels of community engagement in addition to making more rigorous recommendations for environmental protection. Some critics may argue that fast tracking particular projects may, in fact, stifle the ability of communities to involve themselves in the proposals for any given project and thereby undermine the quality of any new developments that are approved.
Planning issues raised during the approvals process are multifaceted, often including factors such as the availability of suitable land, funding approvals and the political landscape at any given point in time. As this fast track process will only apply to particular, hand-picked projects, it is unlikely to offer a wholesale solution to the planning challenges that our country is currently facing.
For those projects that are selected for fast track approvals, it is likely that the personal involvement of the Secretary of State in progressing them will indeed result in them proceeding in a faster than usual timescale. This may have a beneficial effect on similar projects that can use them as case studies and reference the decisions made where they are appropriate to their own planning approvals.
The proposal includes measures to support infrastructure developers to access the expertise that they require and is likely to offer a process whereby those companies can recover the full costs incurred for utilising these services. This is a very exciting point that could certainly help construction companies to produce very high quality pre-planning applications and ultimately improve their likelihood of success.
It is our belief that substantial changes are needed to the UK's planning approvals process and this new fast track scheme could well be a helpful element, but it certainly will not resolve all of the issues that we face. We hope that this will be the first element in a broader strategy designed to tackle the complex challenges faced by construction companies in the UK.
At Build Space, we have been involved in more than our fair share of planning approvals. We have the battle scars to prove it and have learned from each and every engagement with which we have been involved.
To this end, we are well placed to support businesses that are preparing a planning application, offering experienced architecture and project management talent that can draft or peer review your application, develop suitable annexes and drawings and be involved as required throughout the planning process, allowing your people to continue to deliver the day job. To find out how we can help you to keep business running whilst rising to the challenges of a planning application, please call us today.