Update on the 1st NIPA Insights Research Project

February 7, 2017

Delivering effective DCO Projects: Is the devil in the detail?

We have now reached the halfway stage of the first NIPA Insights research project. It has generated significant interest and debate amongst stakeholders, and we are about to embark on a second round of engagement to test preliminary findings.

What did we set out to do?

In September 2016 NIPA commissioned a team from the Bartlett School of Planning at the University College London to undertake research into the extent and impact of the level of detail in the DCO process. They were commissioned to:
Where have we got to?

  • collate evidence and industry views about the issues – identified as being the level of detail required in assessment, application, examination and consent of/for NSIPs; versus the impacts – of current practice on the quality of the process for all stakeholders, the impact of current practice on the quality of decision-making, and on the quality of resultant schemes, including their delivery; and
  • to identify practical recommendations to support a move towards an optimum balance between detail, flexibility, process, decision-making and project outcomes for the planning and authorisation of NSIPs.

The UCL team has now carried out extensive primary research, incorporating:
The final stage of the primary research comprises two case studies. The two case studies are the A14 – Cambridge to Huntingdon Improvement Scheme; and the Galloper off shore windfarm. These two case studies have been chosen as interesting schemes from which lessons can be learnt. The intention is not to compare the two directly, but to explore some of the issues in more depth and to test out whether emerging recommendations would help deliverability. These will be completed soon.

  • A wide ranging desktop review of the issues has been undertaken to determine current policy and practice, and identify evidence of the impacts arising on project outcomes; and
  • Extensive consultation has been undertaken with a wide range of stakeholders including Government Departments, Promoters, Advisers, Contractors, Local Authorities, Statutory Consultees and Community Representatives. This has been achieved through over twenty semi-structured interviews and four focus groups.

What’s happening next?

The UCL team has produced an initial set of preliminary findings, including a set of emerging recommendations. These have been tested initially with NIPA’s Council members, and with the Member Stakeholder Group, and have now formed the basis of a response to the NIC consultation about how to improve project delivery through the planning process. The next step is to fully test the emerging findings and recommendations with stakeholders to test their potential feasibility and practicability in improving project delivery.

These emerging findings and recommendations are being explored via:
This second stage of the research project will lead to a series of final recommendations, and a proposed action plan setting out how to take them forward. UCL will report to NIPA by the end of March 2017.

  • The case study research;
  • Further meetings with the Planning Inspectorate and Central Government Departments;
  • A workshop at UCL to which all those involved in study interviews and focus groups will be invited; and
  • Involvement of NIPA members (see below).

How can NIPA members get directly involved?

The NIPA Member Stakeholder Group, established to act as a sounding board for the research team, continues to provide invaluable input and will meet again in March.

A second NIPA roundtable on this research is being held on the 28th February to discuss the emerging findings and recommendations. Further details on how to attend can be found HERE

For anyone unable to attend the roundtable event, wishing to discuss the research further, please contact Hannah Hickman at She will be happy to discuss the emerging findings and pass on any feedback to the research team or NIPA management group as appropriate.


Preliminary findings
Emerging recommendations

Many of the current NPSs are approaching the time at which they will need to be updated. There would appear to be an opportunity to address the issues of detail, flexibility and deliverability in the drafting of National Policy Statements.

  1. As this study has progressed, responses from stakeholders have suggested that the critical focus of this work should be to identify ways in which the Planning Act process, on which the delivery of much national infrastructure will depend, can produce projects which optimise the balance between detail and flexibility so as to define major infrastructure projects that can be delivered cost effectively and efficiently, whilst continuing to meet their social, environmental and economic objectives, and protect the interests of interested stakeholders and communities.
  2. The study has found that most participants in the Planning Act process believe that it is generally operating effectively, and that the incremental improvements made to the process over the years have been beneficial. However, the study has also uncovered a range of evidence about unnecessary detail being considered during the planning stages of projects, and about project flexibility being constrained through Development Consent Orders, both leading to inefficiencies and additional cost in delivering major infrastructure projects.
  3. Detail in assessment: There seem to be a wide range of reasons for detail being assessed and specified too early during the Planning Act process, and that this is driven by a range of different actors involved, including promoters, local communities, local authorities, statutory consultees, and examining authorities.
  4. Conversely, there is also evidence that there are circumstances when detail of assessment and consent are perfectly reasonable, particularly when there are particularly constrained sites, or issues of important environmental sensitivity.
  5. Flexibility of consent: There is also a wide range of reasons why flexibility appears to be constrained within Development Consent Orders, from a perceived need to understand the nature of a scheme to provide greater certainty to local communities about the design and future operation of a scheme, to a perceived need to tie down compulsory purchase requirements, and therefore provide greater certainty for land owners.
  6. Conversely, some projects are achieving a good level of flexibility in their Development Consent Orders, and there is evidence that this can also lead to better outcomes for landowners, local authorities, local communities, statutory consultees and the environment. The attainment of this flexibility does – reasonably – need to be assessed in order to be able to define a wider envelope in which the project can be progressed, but this seems to be an accepted consequence of seeking greater flexibility for project delivery.
  1. The wide range of evidence considered in this study so far suggests that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to this issue. However, there seems to be an opportunity to refocus the planning process to include greater consideration of deliverability issues, and the flexibility and detail required to deliver this through into the project delivery phase. This ‘refocusing’ need to overcome the fact that the DCO has, for many, become an end in itself, and this can reduce the focus on what is needed to deliver the project effectively.
  1. Four broad areas for recommendations have been identified:
  1. Legislation, Policy and Guidance:

The issues of detail, flexibility and deliverability are dealt with patchily across current DCLG guidance and PINS Advice Notes, and there may be benefit of drawing guidance together into one place to establish greater focus on these issues through the DCO process.

A more user friendly resolution to non-material amendments is needed.
Many of the tools and techniques required to deliver more cost effective, deliverable major infrastructure projects are already available, but that these are not employed consistently across the industry.

  1. The DCO Application, Examination and Consent:

The question raised therefore is whether or not the engagement, assessment and examination of projects can address these issues more directly, demonstrating how the need for flexibility and detail has been resolved through engagement, design development and assessment of the project.

The study has identified that it is possible for provision to be reasonably made through discharge of requirements to resolve matters of detail, and for this to be good for project promoters, local authorities, land owners and affected communities alike. Greater consistency and awareness of alternative mechanisms to achieve this, and the benefits this can lead to, is considered necessary.
There is evidence that the priorities of promoters to achieve robust consents leads to contract arrangements for promoters’ teams to be incentivised on attainment of the consent, and not on the cost effectiveness or deliverability of the resulting scheme. Consideration might be given to alternative arrangements.

  1. Project Management and Delivery

The study suggests that there is potential to improve deliverability and constructability by appointing a project manager/ management team which oversees the project through planning and delivery, and in particular through the handover period between consent and construction contracts.

The study also suggests that the engagement of construction partners or advice in the early planning and design development stages of projects would better inform their requirements for flexibility and reduce requests for detail further into the process.

Regular promoters in the system are now clearly learning lessons about how to improve project flexibility and deliverability through the Planning Act process, however, the evidence suggests that those who are less regularly exposed to the system are not benefiting from the lesson learned. A better process of dissemination would help.

  1. Training and Dissemination

In particular, greater dissemination of case studies which show both the methods to deliver greater flexibility, and the potential for benefits to accrue to promoters, consultees and affected communities would help to increase confidence in the use of requirements which allow further detail to be agreed a later stages of projects, when more information is available about design, construction process, and technology.

There is a need for more rigorous post project monitoring and evaluation.

9. Action Plan: Even a cursory examination of these recommendations suggests that progress on these issues will require a range of stakeholders to work together on making adjustments throughout the process. The final report will suggest an action plan to take this work forward, and NIPA looks forward to working with colleagues across the industry, and play its part in supporting continuous improvement of the process of delivering Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.