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Five years of blogging on the Planning Act 2008

Angus Walker picture-13This entry looks back on the first five years of the blog.

On 17 July 2009 the first entry of this Planning Act 2008 blog was published.

At that time, there were no National Policy Statements (NPSs), even in draft, no applications had been made for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) - indeed they were not even able to be made until 1 March 2010. The Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) was being set up, but it didn't open for business (initially just to give advice) until October 2009. Only one piece of secondary legislation - to set out consultees for NPSs - was in place. A perfect time to start blogging!

The first entry mused that the third runway at Heathrow, new nuclear power stations, offshore wind farms and the next high speed rail line north of London would all be able to use this regime.

Five years on, and the Planning Act itself is in the throes of being amended by a third Act of Parliament - the Infrastructure Act 2015 will follow the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 and the Localism Act 2011. The secondary legislation supporting the Act has been produced and subsequently amended - indeed the NPS consultation regulations that were in place five years ago have been revoked altogether, as part of the 'red tape challenge'.

The IPC has been and gone, replaced by the Planning Inspectorate on 1 April 2012. Nine NPSs have been designated and a tenth, for road, rail and rail freight, is finally in draft. Government guidance has been issued and completely replaced; IPC and then PINS advice has been issued and updated; some of it is on its fifth version. Incidentally the 'advice note change register' says that no advice note has been updated for a year, but notes 4, 5 and 10 have actually been updated more recently. Am I the only one to notice these things? Probably.

Applications have been made for 51 NSIPs. No sign of a third runway at Heathrow, two versions of which are among the front runners to be recommended as the next runway in the south-east of England after such proposals went off the table and back on again. It is not guaranteed that the chosen runway will use the Planning Act, as the Airports Commission is currently seeking views on the consenting route, but I would have thought it was the firm favourite. Then again I'm probably biased, despite having originally claimed I do not take the standpoint of promoting the new regime in the first blog post.

One of the eight envisaged new nuclear power stations has been through the regime, at Hinkley Point C, with judgment awaited from the Court of Appeal as to whether transboundary consultation was done properly. Applications for offshore windfarms have been relatively plentiful, though, with 12 having been made. Five have been all the way through the regime and have received consent, although one, for the Atlantic Array, was withdrawn just before its examination started. The five windfarm decisions are among 20 consents for all types of project.

Finally, although High Speed 2 could have been consented under the Planning Act regime, instead it is being authorised via its own Act of Parliament. As it should use the Planning Act, clause 23 of the High Speed Rail (London to West Midlands) Bill prevents it from being an offence to construct HS2 without using the Planning Act. It will be interesting to see by what method 'Crossrail 2' in London is authorised.

The thresholds for NSIPs have been amended over the years - three types have had their thresholds raised: electric lines, highways and railways, one has had its threshold widened, for waste water transfer and storage, and the regime was extended in December 2013 for ten types of business and commercial project to use optionally. One such project has taken the plunge so far - a proposed entertainment resort in Kent licensed by Paramount Pictures.

Through all this, I hope this blog has kept you relentlessly informed and mildly entertained. It took five months for the first person to click the 'subscribe' button, but since then the number of subscribers has risen steadily and stands at nearly 800. I can at least say without contradiction that it is the best blog dedicated to the Planning Act 2008 regime, by virtue of remaining the only one.

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