National Planning Summit: Expert predicts housing and fracking DCOs

Major housing development and shale-gas extraction schemes could soon be included on the list of acceptable Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), according to an infrastructure law expert.

Angus Walker speaking at the event earlier today
Angus Walker speaking at the event earlier today

Angus Walker, partner at legal firm Bircham Dyson Bell, told a session at today’s National Planning Summit that he could foresee such projects added to the list of scheme types considered suitable for fast-track approval by ministers under the Planning Act 2008.

Walker said the route, which essentially bypasses local planning authorities and results in Development Consent Orders (DCOs) for large scale schemes, had already seen the scope of its projects expanded and that further additions were likely.

"My suspicion is that we’ll be able to use the Planning Act for fracking in the future - after the Town and Country Planning Act goes wrong a few times," he said.

"If there's a new secretary of state for communities and local government after 8 May, I suspect that housing may be brought under the remit, depending on the next parliament."

Walker subsequently said that DCOs for fracking would ideally be supported by a national policy statement emphasising the practice‘s desirability.

He added that fracking schemes - and other projects that took the DCO route - benefited from a protection from High Court challenge while their applications were live.

"You can't launch a judicial review of a project between the application stage and a decison being made," he said.

The NSIP process is designed to take one year from application to decision, and was introduced by the last Labour government to speed up the planning process for major projects considered to be of national importance.

Previously, such schemes were decided by public inquiries and could take years to receive consent - one example being Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5, which took eight years to be approved, including a four-year inquiry.


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