DCLG pledges flexibility on post-permission changes

Developers of nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) would be allowed to make changes to their planning permissions after they have been granted by the secretary of state without needing to submit a fresh application, under proposals unveiled by the government last week.

Infrastructure: developers may be allowed to make changes without fresh permission. Credit: Network Rail
Infrastructure: developers may be allowed to make changes without fresh permission. Credit: Network Rail

Respondents to a review of the NSIP process by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) had complained that arrangements for making any changes to a development consent order (DCO) after consent has been granted were "overly burdensome and bureaucratic".

Currently, all material changes are treated as the same by the Planning Act 2008 regime, meaning that the developer would have to restart the consent process with a new application even for a minor change.

Instead, the DCLG has suggested that a distinction could be introduced between minor material changes and more significant material changes, in its response to the review, published last week. It proposed that the need to update the environmental statement accompanying the application could be the threshold for deciding whether a change would be considered "minor" or "major".

Angus Walker, a partner at law firm Bircham Dyson Bell, agreed that the current process needed changing. So far, no developers have applied to change a DCO post-consent, he noted. "This is telling in itself – they’d rather put up with it than go through the whole process again," he said.

The DCLG will consult on the change in August. 

The move was welcomed by planning experts. Simon Flisher, director at consultancy Barton Willmore, said that the change would bring in much more flexibility for developers to adapt a project to the particular circumstances of use, which was often not known at the time an application was submitted.

For example, occupiers of large-scale logistics parks and rail-freight exchanges are unlikely to be signed up until consent for a project is agreed, he pointed out. These types of developments often need to be tweaked to meet the requirements of a particular occupier, such as the type of goods distributed, he said.

Greg Dickson senior partner at consultancy Turley, said that the DCLG would need "clear foresight" in how they define the thresholds for what constituted a "major" or "minor" change to a DCO, given the wide-range of types of development that can be considered under the NSIP regime.

For example, a technological change such as a large blade on a wind turbine could be considered minor, but it might need another environmental statement to consider the landscape impact meaning it would be considered major, he said.

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