Skip to main content
Close Menu Open Menu

Planning reform: Infrastructure planning

This page explains how the Royal Town Planning Institute expects the government’s proposed planning reforms to impact the delivery of infrastructure. 

Unlike housing, industrial and other types of local development, significant infrastructure – for example, larger transport and energy projects – is given consent at a national level and determined by Government Ministers in England and Wales.

Reforms to planning for major infrastructure

The RTPI has welcomed recent government efforts to progress with its NSIP Action Plan and believe that many of the proposals suggested in its recent consultation will help to speed up the consenting process, improve pre-application and post-consent stages, and support the Planning Inspectorate, local authorities and statutory consultees in the planning system to engage more effectively with new infrastructure projects.

However, government should go further to ensure that infrastructure can be integral in delivering a net zero future whilst driving economic growth. In our view:

  1. New National Policy Statements are welcome but should be updated more regularly, at least every 5 years (as supported by the National Infrastructure Commission).
  2. National Policy Statements and the National Infrastructure Strategy should be updated to provide a clear spatial planning framework for infrastructure. They should “go beyond just saying what is infrastructure is needed” to “provide important spatial direction about where infrastructure should be delivered. They should also be interlinked to establish a clearer understanding of our built environment.”
  3. Resourcing the Planning Inspectorate needs to become a greater focus of the Government’s capacity and capability strategy for planning. The success of these reforms depends on their ability to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of experienced planners to deliver these reforms.
  4. Government should establish an independent Commission for Public Engagement or a public framework of public engagement consultancies to “ensure major project’s consultation requirements are proportionate, create a more level playing field between project developers and communities and reduce the delays and costs associated with local opposition”

Planning for major infrastructure explained

In the Planning Act 2008 Government introduced Development Consent Order (DCO) in England and Wales as a way to provide planning permission for developments categorised as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP).

The Act was originally introduced to streamline the process of delivering these larger projects and create an infrastructure planning system that is faster and fairer for communities and developers alike.

Under this ‘NSIP regime’, all projects go through a six-stage process starting at pre-application and passing through acceptance, pre-examination, examination, recommendation & decision and post decision. The Planning Inspectorate undertakes the examination before relevant Secretary of State makes the final decision. Unlike the standard – ‘town and country’ – planning system, in the NSIP regime, Local Authorities have no decision-making powers for these infrastructure projects, operating as facilitators only.

To establish what infrastructure is needed and offer guidance for each type of project, Government is required to produce and regularly update National Policy Statements (NPS), statutory documents that departments can use to outline the government’s policy on specific types of NSIPs. These are used by the relevant Secretary of State when they make decisions on infrastructure and during the application process all projects must demonstrate how they deliver against the NPS.

Planning for major infrastructure since 2008

Since the introduction of the 2008 Act’s infrastructure planning regime there have been over 220 applications to the Planning Inspectorate and in 2021 the 100th NSIP project was decided after examination.

However, since the introduction of DCOs the timescale for decision making has drastically increased. The average time for a decision has increased by 5 months since 2012 whilst projects being delayed has increased from 20% from 2012 to 2016 to 43% since 2017. Alongside these delays, the average number of documents required during the process has tripled in the last 8 years. These statistics highlight the significant challenges facing the NSIP regime.

Since 2017, outdated NPSs have been identified as a key cause of delay and complexity in the infrastructure planning process. Without regular NPS updates infrastructure projects have experienced greater risk of legal challenge and required more evidence to be produced and submitted, slowing their progress down. These challenges were reported to the National Infrastructure Planning Reform Board in 2021.

Project Hindsight, is currently being undertaken by the National Infrastructure Planning Association and RTPI-accredited planning schools at the University of the West of England and the University of Sheffield to research DCO implementation, discussed in greater detail here.

RTPI’s view of National Policy Statements

Below is a list of Government’s National Policy Statements and the RTPI’s responses to them.



RTPI’s response

EN-1 Overarching NPS for Energy



The Government consulted on Planning for new energy infrastructure: revisions to National Policy Statements in May 2023. 



The RTPI has submitted a response to the consultation: Planning for new energy infrastructure: revisions to National Policy Statements.


The RTPI previously responded to prior consultations on these in 2021 as well.




EN-2 NPS for Natural Gas Electricity Generating Infrastructure

EN-3 NPS for Renewable Energy Infrastructure

EN-4 NPS for Gas Supply Infrastructure and Gas and Oil Pipelines

EN-5 NPS for Electricity Networks Infrastructure

EN-6 NPS for Nuclear Power Generation

Designated in 2011


EN-7 NPS for Nuclear Power Generation (incl Small Reactors)

Expect consultation over the next 12-18 months and designated by early 2025


Nuclear Fusion NPS



Geological Disposal Infrastructure NPS

Designated in 2019


Ports NPS

Designated 2012



National Networks NPS

Under consultation – closing 6th June 2023

The RTPI has submitted a response.

Airports NPS

Designated 2018

The RTPI responded to both rounds of consultation in May and December 2017.

Waste water NPS

Designated 2012


Hazardous Waste NPS

Designated 2013


NPS for Water Resources NPS

Designated 2023

The RTPI responded to a prior consultation in 2017.


Planning for onshore wind

Though they are often nationally significant in terms of their size and potential role in decarbonising the national energy supply, onshore wind projects are not covered by the NSIP regime.

Consultation: Developing local partnerships for onshore wind in England

Recognising that onshore wind should play a bigger role in the national energy mix, in May 2023 the government published the consultation ‘Developing local partnerships for onshore wind in England’. This focused on two things:

  • Improving community engagement for onshore wind developments by applying the government’s community engagement guidance to National Planning Practice Guidance; and
  • Encouraging developers to offer effected communities new forms community benefit – particularly electricity bill discounts.

It did not:

  • Address the lack of a national strategy for onshore wind, which would provide a basis for ‘options’ stage engagement with communities and a clear pipeline for development of new projects
  • Regularise the treatment of onshore wind projects by removing the additional requirements for community support stipulated by footnote 54 of the NPP
  • Focus on forms of community benefits other than electricity bill reductions (for example, retrofit or shared ownership officers)
  • Revisit statements made by the government in 2015 that shared ownership of onshore wind could built social acceptance and promote growth of the renewables industry.

The RTPI’s response is available here.

Our key messages are:

  • While improving the way that developers conduct traditional consultations would undoubtedly be a positive move, research suggests that engagement at the ‘options’ phase of projects and shared ownership models could be an even more effective way of building community support and developing genuine partnerships.
  • The key barrier to community support for major projects of all kinds – not just onshore wind – is a sense of procedural unfairness. There are no shortcuts for genuine community engagement, and expanding community benefits without effective engagement can give communities the sense that their support is being ‘bought off’.
  • Community benefits can play an important role in building support for new projects, but some are more appropriate than others. Local retrofit schemes and community ownership offers may be more appropriate that electricity bill reductions, and the government should consider amending the Newbury Principles so that community benefit schemes that deliver this kind of benefit can be considered as material within planning decisions.

Further Reading

More information about infrastructure planning can be found here: