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New infrastructure needs ‘slick’ planning regime

An efficient and effective planning regime is vital to UK efforts to deliver its new infrastructure programme, Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) chairman Sir Michael Pitt told ICE Council this week.

New planning commission

Pitt took over as chief executive of the Planning Inspectorate on 1 April. This will absorb the IPC next year. He said that work ahead of this integration was “progressing well” allowing the change to be “seamless from the point of view of applicants”.

But Pitt highlighted to Council that the 56 major projects now under review by the IPC are together worth a massive £150bn and pointed out that 80% of the funding would come from companies based abroad.

“Judgements are being made by boardrooms abroad. If we are going to convince these companies to invest we need a very slick [planning] regime and they need to have confidence in our decision making processes,” he said.

“Judgements are being made by boardrooms abroad. If we are going to convince these companies to invest we need a very slick [planning] regime”

Sir Michael Pitt

He said that the new Planning Act, which came into force in 2010, had thrown up several challenges.

“It replaced ineffective legislation and so is a dramatic improvement,” said Pitt. “But one of the characteristics is front loading, which means that more work has to be done up front,” he added pointing out that this had “proved a challenge for some applicants”.

He urged promoters to “always appoint the best quality legal and technical advisers” so as to give realistic understanding of the investment needed for an infrastructure planning application. This would help prevent delays.

“Projects are not coming to us in the timescales expected,” said Pitt, highlighting that this had caused problems with “resource planning” at the IPC.

“The degree of optimism is quite substantial.”

Key to the new planning regime is complete openness where nothing is confidential and everything is discussed, he said.

“Many more conversations are happening to resolve differences early − we encourage promoters to do deals to find consensus,” he told Council. “It also means that consultation has to be genuine engagement with local communities and we will look for evidence that scheme has changed as a result,” he said.

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