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COMMENT


T


he country’s transport infrastructure, its energy infrastructure, its utilities and urban geography, are vital drivers of the wider economy and society.


But while many organisations, campaign- ers, commentators and governments have attempted to make upgrading and building new infrastructure easier and cheaper and quicker, there is still a widespread feeling that more could be done – especially with the planning process.


In response to the reforms introduced in the Planning Act 2008, including the crea- tion of the Infrastructure Planning Com- mission (the IPC, now set for abolition), then the election of the Coalition Govern- ment and its own sweeping planning agen- da, a number of companies and interested parties got together last year to form a new body, the National Infrastructure Planning Association (NIPA, pronounced ‘nipper’).


Fresh thinking


Secretary of the new body, and one of the driving forces behind its creation, is Robbie Owen, a planning and infrastructure lawyer and a partner at Bircham Dyson Bell LLP.


He told RTM: “We came up with the idea during the course of last year and got some good support for it from a number of stake- holders, not least Government departments including the Department for Communities & Local Government (CLG). We got Steven Norris to chair it, and launched NIPA at the end of last year, with a lot of support – the room was overcrowded.


“It’s taken awhile since to sort out all of the constitutional stuff and the architecture for the association. We launched a call for members in May, and we’ve already had about 120 people join, which is very en- couraging. We’re hoping to get 200 or 300 members in our first year, though inevita- bly it will take awhile to establish ourselves as ‘the voice’ on the planning process for economic infrastructure, from transport to water, waste, energy – all of those sectors. Obviously it’s going to cover heavy rail and other rail projects.”


Industry players


Owen went on: “The thinking really is that the last government put a lot of time and effort into reforming the planning process for what they saw as nationally significant infrastructure projects: big railways, big roads, big energy schemes. It passed new legislation in the form of the Planning Act 2008, with CLG, as the lead department, doing a lot of work on implementation,


drafting regulation and guidance. The IPC was set up to be the body to decide on indi- vidual projects.


“But that was just the end of the beginning in terms of what needs to be done to make sure this new system works. We thought that CLG had done a great job in getting together the key stakeholders, and thought something needed to be set up to take that process onwards from there, as CLG will obviously go off and do the next thing that needs doing; they won’t see themselves having a role going forward in keeping stakeholders together. So we knew indus- try had to step in.”


There are other bodies promoting UK in- frastructure, but NIPA is the first to em- phasise the planning process.


Owen told us: “We’re solely focused on the ‘front end’ of infrastructure: the planning process and everything that goes with it. There are bodies around such as the Infra- structure Forum, and the Major Projects Association, that look at the provision of infrastructure in the round, but we thought that planning is such an important part of the process that we needed an organisation focusing on that, rather than straying into finance and funding and procurement.


“For the first time, there is a new regime bringing together different sectors which previously had each done things very differ- ently; so, the rail industry had done things


one way, and the energy industry a differ- ent way. But, the whole point of this new regime was to set up a common framework for big infrastructure schemes, whether you’re rail or nuclear or whatever. There is a need for a forum to let those sectors talk together, both on the client side and also the key advisers, engineers, planners, sur- veyors, lawyers, environmental experts, ex- perts in consultation, and so on. Historical- ly, insufficient focus has been given to the planning process for infrastructure, and there were lots of things that probably took far too long or shouldn’t have happened at all – the planning disasters we’re familiar with. We also want to provide a forum for developing best practice and for education on these issues.”


Legal eagles


It is a complex area, made even more so by the overhauls of 2008, and fresh reforms lurking in the Localism Bill, still winding its way through Parliament as RTM went to press.


Owen said: “I wouldn’t say I’m happy with the Localism Bill. I don’t think it does enough to fine-tune and improve the sys- tem Labour set up. If you are going back, as they are doing, to decisions being made by ministers on individual projects, I think you can follow that thinking through and take out a lot of the checks and balances that were included in the Planning Act 2008 only because, at the time, there were


rail technology magazine Jun/Jul 11 | 37


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