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Roads programme 'threatened' by government planning delays

M25 between junction 14 and 15

Highways England’s road investment strategy could be at risk if the government does not “pull its socks up” and make quicker planning decisions, according to a leading infrastructure lawyer.

Highways England intends to push through 30 development consent order (DCO) applications by the end of its current road investment strategy (RIS1) in 2020.

DCOs are mechanisms that allow government to grant planning permission for major infrastructure projects, bypassing local planning authorities.

But the government is getting slower at granting planning permission. From October 2011 to July 2016, the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, predecessor to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), delayed just one DCO decision out of 56 applications.

However, since the departmental reorganisation of July 2016, six out of 14 DCO decisions submitted to the DfT and BEIS have been delayed.

Law firm Bircham Dyson Bell’s head of government and infrastructure Angus Walker told New Civil Engineer that unless the government improves its efficiency, Highways England’s RIS1 could suffer delays.

He said: “Highways England have a lot of projects coming up which are supposed to be consented by the end of the road investment strategy period, which is March 2020. So if there were delays to that, that might threaten their road investment strategy being delivered.”

Walker added that organisations which rely on the planning regime should increase pressure on government to grant DCO applications on time.

He said: “One of the benefits of the regime is the certainty of timing. Everyone else is managing to stick to the times during the application period, and the government is letting everyone down at the end.”

Since July 2016 there have been delays to six schemes, including the Silvertown Tunnel. A planning decision was due in October last year but was pushed back to May 2018 due to government concerns over air quality impacts from the east London road tunnel.

Walker said timing of the general election last year was partially to blame for several delays, but that sanctions for delaying a DCO decision are currently not strong enough.

BEIS and the Department for Transport have been contacted for comment.

DCO delays

  • Silvertown Tunnel: The east London road tunnel has suffered seven months of delays after a planning decision was pushed back from October 2017 to May 2018. Air quality issues have been cited as the main problem.
  • Hornsea Windfarm Project Two: The decision was delayed by two months because of environmental problems.
  • Yorks and Humber Pipeline: suffered a 14 month delay due to problems with a related scheme.
  • Richborough Connection: The general election took place on the day the announcement was due, delaying a planning decision by two months.
  • East Anglia Three: Timings for the general election delayed the decision by one and a half months.
  • Triton Knoll Connection: The decision was published three days late.

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