This case study, produced in February 2018, captures the many lessons for major infrastructure projects from Thameslink Programme’s experience of navigating the UK’s planning system.
The importance of planning and consents
Any major infrastructure programme will require a plethora of planning permissions and consents. These can range from local authority planning permission, development consent orders to a full Transport and Works Act Order. Some projects will require additional consents from bodies such as Historic England, Natural England and relevant highway authorities. Each of these is a time consuming process and given the level of stakeholder consultation it can be difficult to predict, which creates a significant risk to delivery dates. The risk of delay to programme also increases when objections are raised by members of the public and or national and local organisations as these can have a significant impact on the consultation process.
The Hendy review highlighted the importance of planning consents in delivering huge infrastructure programme of crucial economic importance. On the TLP an expert in house Consents team was embedded at programme and project level providing expert guidance and support in managing and delivering consents thus enabling TLP to keep to time and cost. The consenting process was also embedded in TLP’s ISO14001 Environmental Management System and GRIP thus ensuring consents were considered at all stages of the project.
Early engagement with statutory stakeholders
It is important to develop early working relationships with local authorities. Establishing trust and holding regular dialogue from the start of the planning process proved valuable to TLP. During the London Bridge station planning application collaborative working was successfully developed from the outset, whereby the local authority “bought into” the project, considered it to be their scheme and achievement, and was committed to delivering decisions to meet TLP’s programme.
Assist under-resourced Councils
As local authorities are often busy and under-resourced it is worth exploring Planning Performance Agreements for major projects in order to set clear timetables for submissions by the applicant and decisions by the planners. Part funding of local authority officer salaries for key personnel facilitated a dedicated service for TLP, securing regular liaison meetings, and decisions within statutory timescales. For example the Southwark EHO funded by TLP was able to provide a dedicated service for the review and approvals of s61 consents, which was critical to enabling TLP to work 24/7 to meet its programme. In other instances TLP developed “Planning Protocols” with local authorities, which allowed informal approval in principle for works to proceed (minuted at liaison meetings), with formal decision notices being issued at a later stage.
Maximise use of Railway Permitted Development Rights
The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 permits certain forms of development by railway undertakers. Part 8 permits specified works on their operational land. Part 18 permits railway works authorised by historic Acts. TLP has regularly presented the PDR case with local authorities in order to avoid the bureaucracy, cost and risks associated with full planning applications. This was mainly used for works associated with our depots and stabling portfolios where works such as platform extensions and replacing/increasing sidings. This has established a range of precedents for use elsewhere by Network Rail. Care has been taken in striking a balance between the robust exercise of PDR to strengthen these powers and due attention to consulting those affected in order to avoid charges of misuse.
Reduce condition attached to planning permission by negotiation
Planning permission is normally granted subject to a range of conditions. The discharge of each condition can be a lengthy process. It is therefore desirable when negotiating with planners to ensure that any conditions proposed to be attached to a permission are workable and legally enforceable. It has been TLP’s experience that some conditions can be challenged if they are not strictly relevant to the works proposed.
Restrict the scope of s106/CIL obligations
In addition to planning conditions, local authorities may also seek to attach other obligations under section 106 of the Planning Act or related to the Community Infrastructure Levy. TLP has always emphasized that Network Rail is a statutory undertaker and infrastructure provider funded by Government and offering major public benefits. Where local authorities attempt to negotiate financial or other contributions, for example to public realm, these must be fully justified and directly related.
The value of a progress track shared with the Local Authority
A shared tracker monitoring progress in discharging all consents, conditions and legal obligations provides clear visibility of the scope of work for all parties from the outset and throughout the programme. TLP’s experience has been that one common document, which provides the agenda for each liaison meeting, can be a useful tool.
Risks and opportunities in the planning process
Major rail infrastructure works generally require planning permission, which can be a lengthy and complex process. Project Managers are advised to consult with Consents Managers at an early stage in order to determine the likely timescales, which are frequently underestimated. TLP’s experience has indicated some ways in which the process can be expedited, as above. For many minor works there is an opportunity for Network Rail to confidently exercise its Permitted Development Rights, thereby strengthening them for future use and reducing bureaucracy and delay. There is sometimes the risk that Network Rail is perceived as exceeding or abusing its PDR powers, and is challenged, resulting in diminution of powers by Government. A balanced, responsible approach, in consultation with all affected parties, is therefore recommended.
About the author
Case Study produced by Amelia Woodley, Thameslink Programme Environment Manager, February 2018
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