I relish the complexities and challenges of these big projects: my NIPA story

5 May 2024

Liz Wells MRTPI
Assistant Director | FA - Real Assets Advisory | Deloitte LLP

I put my hand up and it all went from there. I was curious and interested but I had no idea how fulfilling and fascinating it would be to become an infrastructure planning specialist. I’m so glad I did – everything happens for a reason. This is my NIPA story.

Back in 2012, the conversation in the office was about something novel and not very well understood called the Yorkshire & Humber CCS Cross Country Pipeline. Catchy name, right? But the project was arresting. The National Grid Carbon team was looking for local skills and help that I thought I could offer, and I signed up for the challenge on an initial secondment basis. As well as taking me right across the county, it was the start of a journey that’s taken me deeper in the world of major energy projects, new technologies and where I reckon I’ve found my niche.

Why do I like it so much? I think it’s because of the variety involved in every DCO, the conversations you need to have, the problems you need to solve and the fact that, at the end of the process, there’s something meaningful, valuable and much bigger than you that you’ve helped to deliver (even if that CCS project didn’t get off the ground, we took it right to the SoS!). That’s a pleasure and a responsibility. The work will always keep you on your toes and the chance to collaborate with amazing professionals across so many complementary disciplines is such a rich way to learn.

Now I’m involved in solar, hydrogen and a raft of energy and energy related projects for clients having switched to consultancy with Deloitte. I’m principally helping with early-stage strategy work to help set projects up for success. Or giving advice on how best to manage grid connections and the world of offer letters, utility interfaces, and the very special vocabulary that seems to dominate that particular sub sector.

Like other writers of NIPA stories, I’ve certainly relished the complexities and challenges of these big investment and infrastructure projects, knowing that they’re vital and trying to lend a hand to making them happen.

That’s one of the things that drew me to NIPA – for the sense of community and to be able to share with and learn from others. NIPA is fundamentally a learning organisation and I love that. It’s such a solid place to discuss lessons learned or insights gained. Things that will help others and deliver improvement. I find it massively valuable and I have no doubt I learn more than I put in – but then people kindly tell me they find my experiences useful to them so, in the great balance of things, everyone is a winner.

As I say, my DCO journey started back in the summer of 2012 when Jess Ennis and Mo Farah were lighting up London and ‘Somebody that I used to know’ was the biggest selling single in the UK charts. Different times! The Act was young back then and one of the other things I think about a lot is how effective it’s proven to be as well as how successfully we’ve all grown as a community promoting projects, taking schemes through examination and getting things delivered. It’s important to be constantly striving for better but also to recognise what’s been achieved. The legislation has been game-changing and the people involved – whether at PINS or on the applicants’ side – have all invested in making it operate effectively. Plus we’ve all grown as we’ve taken more projects through the process and we’ve all become more adept at balancing national need with the inevitable impacts of large scale but necessary developments. Long may the learning and improvement continue!

Without committing heresy, I would also add that there is more to consenting than a DCO. I also work and have worked on a number of large scale TCPA schemes and I will always advocate ‘pick the right process for your project’ – it’s important to make a conscious and considered choice about which route is right for you. But there’s a place for that in NIPA too – the issues overlap and it’s not all ‘NSIP, NSIP, NSIP’ when it comes to talking, learning and sharing!

Incidentally my photo is from the recent launch event for the Viking Link Interconnector in April; now proudly the Guinness World Record holder for the world’s longest land and subsea HVDC interconnector; all of the terrestrial consenting secured via the Town and Country Planning Act.

On the theme of ‘a place in NIPA’, I’m passionate about spreading the word and helping others to see the opportunities I’ve accessed and benefited from by fact of engaging with the organisation. It genuinely is a ‘family’ as Steve Norris always says. With that in mind, I’m heading to UKREiiF in Leeds with a hope that anyone wanting to talk to me – or others involved in NIPA – might get in touch for a chat or a word. Who knows how successful we’ll be but myself and several others will be flying the flag in a modern way with #MeetMeAtUKREiiF and hoping we’ll get an opportunity to pass on some of our views, advice and experiences of NIPA for others to gain from and, all being well, to get involved in NIPA themselves.

It’s amazing what can happen when you put your hand up. I found myself working on a CCS project but, much more than that, I found a space and a place for me – and that’s in infrastructure planning and delivery.

Thanks for reading my NIPA story. See you in Leeds between 21-23 May if you’re heading that way.