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National Networks National Policy Statement - Planning with borders

09 April 2014

davidpendlLast month, the Government released its much delayed National Networks National Policy Statement (NN NPS). This was the last of twelve planned National Policy Statements (NPSs) to provide direction for the development of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) – bear with the abbreviations! - i.e. projects above a defined size large enough to deem them ‘nationally significant’ in England.

The other eleven NPSs, covering topics from Nuclear Power to Water Treatment were released over twelve months ago, but while the suspense may have been building for the announcement of the policy for major road and rail networks in England, the end product was a certain anti-climax.


Most fundamentally, the NPS lacked the two key components for which the RTPI has argued for strenuously and consistently, including in our latest policy paper ‘Capturing the Wider Benefts of Investment in Transport Infrastructure’, that major transport infrastructure needs to be planned:

  • a) across modes – with the NPS falling at the first hurdle here by limiting itself to being a solely ‘road and rail’ policy,
  • and b) in conjunction with other spatial priorities

While we were pleased to see the document linking the importance of transport infrastructure to unlocking housing development, there was no sign of any spatial plan for where and how such linked investment would be delivered.

the lack of any broader geographic awareness within the document which was most striking

Nevertheless, it was the lack of any broader geographic awareness within the document which was most striking, failing to consider the impacts of travel patterns or development plans outside of England as being of any relevance to the English national road and rail networks. This was an ironic omission given that the publication of the document occurred just days before Sir Peter Hall’s excellent Sintropher Transport Conference in Brussels, which discussed how best to maximise the efficiency of the Trans European Networks (TEN) and other collaborative pan-European transport policies.

However, given our island nature, perhaps a bout of forgetfulness in relation to the fact that our major cities are unavoidably linked by road and rail to the ‘Pentagon’[1]of Europe’s economic core, with three continental, national capitals and hub airports within three hours travel, is forgivable. Therefore, to simplify matters we can ask if the NPS is geographically suitable for the UK at least? Unfortunately, the same criticism still applies.

Devolution and decentralisation

Devolution and decentralisation are important movements to provide areas of economic and cultural continuity with the mechanisms and incentives to define their futures and make the best decisions for their places. However, there will always be strategic issues which need to be tackled at a larger than local, and sometimes even larger than national level. Clearly, in the case of England’s major road and rail infrastructure, when developing policy priorities for the networks’ development, consideration needs to be taken of the use, and future projected use, of the networks by those travelling, say from Cardiff to Nottingham, or from Edinburgh to Manchester, let alone from Dublin to Paris! Therefore, in this regard, the development of a purely English policy for delivering major road and rail infrastructure seems a futile task.

Economies of scale still exist in infrastructure provision, as do inefficiencies derived from disjointed planning. In years gone by, commuters living in the Netherlands and working in Germany would have to change trains at the frontier because the railway systems were not planned in conjunction with one another. Whilst European projects are busy envisaging seamlessly inter-operable travel across the continent, surely the UK does not want its transport planning to head in the opposite direction and be once again restrained by borders?

David Pendlebury is Policy and Networks Adviser at the RTPI and is the policy lead within the areas of major transport and infrastructure planning. His other interests include macroeconomics, international affairs, and public sector finance. Before joining the RTPI, David worked in public affairs in Brussels and also as an analyst within the management consulting industry

[1] The ‘Pentagon’ of Europe is the area within connecting lines drawn on a map between London, Paris, Milan, Munich and Hamburg. An area which makes up less than 20% of the EU’s surface area but contains more than 40% of its population and produces around 50% of its overall GDP (ESDP, 1999).