5 good reasons why adding major housing sites to the National Infrastructure regime is not a good idea @ChrisPincher

Christopher Pincher in planning said he was ‘open to the idea’ of widening the National Infrastructure Regime to Major Housing schemes.

This is occasionally suggested by those who dont understand how the National Infrastructure Regime under the 2008 Act works. 5 reasons why it sint a good fit.

1. It is highly tailored to Major Infrastructure, not Major Housing

In the noughties there was years of work across Whitehall to deal with the length of time needed to approve national infrastructure like new Power Stations, Pipelines etc. Often these needed multiple approval across different departments as well as seperate CPO. The solution was a special procedure under the 2008 Act to grant for consent for everything through an application to a branch of the Planning Inspectorate. The steps, though not perfect, are more clearly set out than for other planning applications but the whole system design was for infrastructure, to which later commercial development was added. Housing other than associated housing is excluded. Several aspects of the system design make it unsuitable for major housing.

2. The decision is not local plan led – which will be politically explosive

Section 38(6) doesn’t apply – the plan led clause. Many policy areas, such as Green Belt, only exist through local plans. There was good reasons for this. The appropriate policy was national policy and some infrastructure, such as pipelines, have t go where they go through irrespective of local policy. Instead national projects have to be determined by special national policy statements, for example national policy statement on airports. The national regime has been far less successful where NPSs have not been spatially specific, such as ports and strategic rail freight hubs, where you have simply seen multiple competing and conflicting applications for the same need – such as the ridiculous case South of Northampton for two mutually incompatible SFRAs. Much the same happened when John Major made his ‘peeing on the motorway’ speech, a tsunami of motorway services station applications only a few of which could be approved. The same would happen, a stampede of badly conceived applications each aiming to be first. The only way this could work is with a national plan or NPS of where major new sites would go.

3. There is provision under the existing Act for the SoS to direct certain categories of Applications to be made to the SOS directly

So why go through the political pain for amending the law of National projects? Similarly the SoS has existing powers (which need tidying up) to declare development corporations, New Towns etc. which is a much better fit. designed for the outset for major housing and mixed use schemes.

4. It Might be Slower

A lot of paperwork is needed for national infrastructure schemes, designed as they are to consider impacts over large areas and multiple authorities, consultation reports, local impact reports etc. This might actually slow things down.

5. It has been tried in Ireland and failed spectacularly

Ireland introduced a ‘temporary’ measure for major housing sites to be made to its planning board. It bogged whole system down as many sloppy applications were made, not meeting the procedures, and leading to large numbers of judicial reviews. The Irish government has stated the temporary measure will not be made permanent.

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