This week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans to speed up the delivery of key infrastructure projects. In this blog, Jon Stott, Ardent’s group managing director, has taken a look at the proposals and while he agrees with the sentiment he believes more can be done.

“Strong communities need to be supported by vital infrastructure; the transport links, power plants, and buildings that underpin our everyday lives.

“Significant infrastructure projects don’t just ensure that people can get to work easily, do their recycling, and power their homes. They also create jobs, grow our economy, and help us become fit for the future.”

These were the words of the Prime Minister in the latest announcement to speed up the delivery of critically important infrastructure.

And who can disagree?

The Development Consent Order (DCO) process was actually established in 2008 and it has worked pretty well in speeding up the delivery of such projects.

DCOs set out clear pre-application consultation requirements, a clear timeframe for the Planning Inspectorate to consider the adequacy of applications, the length of examinations and decisions. They are generally effective and, over the years, the team at Ardent have advised on more than 75 DCOs, so we certainly know our way around them!

In our experience, what slows down the process is (you could say ironically) the time it takes for Secretaries of State to make decisions! On top of that, opponents of such schemes are able to seek a Judicial Review based on weak reasoning.

This new, fast-track, speeded-up plan-of-action doesn’t address these points.

A further point on this is that National Policy Statements – which set out the Government’s objectives for the development of nationally significant infrastructure – are not updated often enough.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has called for legislation for them to be updated every five years to give confidence to promoters that they well receive consent if they are compliant.

This lack of clarity allows opponents of DCOs to challenge them.

Of course, in a democracy, it is only right that major projects should be tested and be able to prove their value but we have to find a way for the ability of opponents to be able to seek Judicial Reviews on spurious or even ‘absurd’ grounds, which has been found in two recent cases, to be removed.

Even where they know that they cannot stop the DCO, they can still cause significant cost and delays to a project.

Ultimately, DCOs are only granted in cases that will deliver national significant projects which are vital for both the economy and society. Therefore, it’s quite right that the Government has plans to speed up the process.

But it is actions, now, not words that are vital if we are to truly deliver what is needed.

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