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Understanding how project consenting impacts infrastructure delivery

06 October 2022

ICE members are invited to contribute to new research evaluating the relationship between the consent process and project implementation.

Understanding how project consenting impacts infrastructure delivery
It’d be great to see ICE members engaging actively in this research. Image credit: CarlsPix/Shutterstock

The need to speed up delivery of critical infrastructure is rarely disputed.

The new Chancellor’s Growth Plan, published on 23 September, continues this narrative.

It calls delivering major infrastructure projects ‘a vital means of driving the UK’s economic growth, increasing long-term energy security and delivering net zero’.

The plan sets out a reform programme intended to accelerate priority infrastructure delivery.

Measures include reducing bureaucracy in the consultation process and greater flexibility to amend a Development Consent Order (DCO) once it’s been submitted.

The journey from consent to delivery

The 2008 Planning Act was specifically designed to support this objective.

It introduced the system of DCOs to speed up permissions for delivering Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs).

More than 100 DCOs have now been granted for NSIPs. Over a decade later, nearly 40 of these are operational, with a similar number under construction.

Yet, while there’s been some research on the effectiveness and speed of the decision-making process, there’s been little examination of the impact on project implementation.

This is clearly important, because it’s critical that the consenting process contributes positively to an effective delivery process.

Understanding the impact on implementation

New research, commissioned by the National Infrastructure Planning Association, seeks to address that gap.

It will evaluate the relationship between the consent as granted and the ease of the implementation process.

Critically, the findings are designed to influence the ongoing dialogue about the NSIP reform programme as set out in the Growth Plan.

The research is being led by the University of the West of England in partnership with the University of Sheffield. It’s focused on:

  • What happens after the DCO has been granted,
  • How the decision-making process impacts implementation, and
  • How the process can be improved to support delivery.

Early findings

Identified challenges already emerging from the research include:

  • lack of flexibility/DCOs being drawn too tightly
  • early contractor engagement
  • change management processes
  • knowledge transfer from pre to post consent/continuity of staffing
  • implementation of mitigation measures in environmental statements
  • detailed design work at implementation

The researchers are very keen to engage a wide range of professionals with experience of DCO implementation - from promoters, project managers, contractors and engineers, to environmental consent specialists, lawyers and local authorities.

ICE members’ input wanted

It’d be great to see ICE members engaging actively in this research.

A key initial stage is a practitioner survey covering important aspects of the implementation process.

There are two surveys participants can choose between:

  • Survey 1 covers project-specific experience. It can be completed more than once for different projects, or
  • Survey 2 covers experience across multiple projects.

The deadline for completing the survey is 31 October 2022.

The team will be following this survey with a number of in-depth case studies.

For more information about the research programme, please get in touch with:

*ICE welcomes guests to share their views about infrastructure policy issues on the Infrastructure Blog. These views are the views of the individual. If you are interested in writing for the Infrastructure Blog, please email [email protected]. ICE reserves the right not to publish articles that have been submitted.

  • Hannah Hickman, associate professor of planning practice at University of the West of England
  • Rebecca Windemer, senior lecturer at University of the West of England