Last week I attended the ‘4th Annual: Major Infrastructure and Renewable Energy Planning in Wales’ Conference, which provided developers with a master class on Welsh Government’s impending Developments of National Significance system.
The Development of National Significance (DNS) system is a new procedure for granting planning permission for development that will deliver nationally important infrastructure in Wales. The system is proposed to make the determination of the planning applications for these developments quicker and more efficient. This blog identifies the key features of the DNS system and potential implications for development and developers.
The Development of National Significance System
The DNS system will determine large and complex planning applications for development that will deliver nationally important infrastructure (energy, waste, water and transport). Development that will be determined through the system will be that which is too large to be determined at the local level, but which is too small to be determined as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP). Prominent development proposals like Cardiff Capital Region Metro or the redevelopment of Cardiff Airport could therefore be subject to the DNS system. However, onshore energy developments with capacity to generate over 50 MW and prominent offshore energy developments, like the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, will not.
- An overview of the DNS system is provided below:
- Planning decisions will be made within 36 weeks of application submission;
- Statutory fees will be similar to those currently charged by Local Planning Authorities;
- Secondary consents will be issued with grant of planning permission; and
- Planning applications will be determined by written representations, hearing or public inquiry (but written representations will be preferred).
To ensure that applications are determined within 36 weeks, the DNS system will require developers to frontload applications during the application preparation stage. Frontloading will require developers to undertake the following:
- Seek pre-submission advice on the application from the Planning Inspectorate Wales and Local Planning Authority;
- Prepare a full draft planning application prior to notifying the Planning Inspectorate Wales (PINS) of an intention to submit the application;
- Undertake statutory pre-submission consultation with all interested parties;
- Amend the application to respond to feedback received from the pre-submission consultation; and
- Prepare a consultation report that demonstrates compliance with the statutory pre-application consultation requirements.
- Developers will also be encouraged to prepare written statements confirm s106 obligations agreed with a Local Planning Authority and enter into Statements of Common Ground with consultees.
Implication on Development
Given the nature of the developments that will be determined through the system the emphasis placed on frontloading is sensible. However, it is difficult to conceive that all issues and subsequent objections can be removed during the application preparation stage when led exclusively by the developer, as opposed to a neutral mediating planning authority.
Removing issues and objections will require developers and stakeholders to negotiate. While this process can unlock unforeseen benefits for developers, there is also a limit to which negotiations can go before the developments viability and primary benefits can become compromised. Furthermore some stakeholders will not want to negotiate with developers. Given the complex and controversial nature of the developments that will be determined through the DNS programme, it is likely that there will be instances where developers undertake extensive pre-submission engagement at considerable cost and are not able to de-risk the application to the extent required prior to submission.
Rather, outstanding issues and objections (and there could be many) will be transferred to the determination process. It is possible that this will place a significant strain on the procedural process and the resources of those involved and result in planning decisions being delayed.
Frontloading would surely be far more achievable if PINS was empowered to take a more active and mediating role during the application preparation phase. This would require greater capacity to be given to PINS, but the involvement of a mediating authority would provide developers and stakeholders with greater certainty of the implications of failing to come to agreement on a matter and help to broker agreements. This would reduce the number of outstanding issues transferred to the determination period, which would be able to focus on the key matters around which agreement cannot be reached; have a positive impact on the resources of all parties that contribute to the determination process; and ensure that planning decisions are issued within 36 weeks.
These are clearly interesting times for infrastructure planning in Wales, and the next few months promises to be busy as the DNS programme progresses in haste. Before the end of the year Welsh Government will explain how the feedback collected from consultation undertaken over the summer has shaped the system and issue the statutory instruments that will enact the DNS programme, and in spring 2016 PINS will accept applications for determination. We will be monitoring the progress of the DNS system over this period and its success thereafter, so please get in touch if you would like to discuss the DNS system further.