A tentative leap forward in electronic application procedures has been necessitated as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. Temporary regulations and guidance for promoters of nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIP) have been introduced. FGP have been weighing up the new regulations and guidance.
The amendments change the emphasis on physical deposit and inspection of documents to the use of online resources. Given the weight of paperwork that is involved in DCO applications this change is to be welcomed. The unexpected circumstances that have prompted their introduction mean that a temporary approach is sensible, but it could lead to a permanent changeover longer term when practical problems can be ironed out.
The Infrastructure Planning (Publication and Notification of Applications etc.) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 came into force on 22 July 2020 and relate primarily to the Planning Act 2008 and previous regulations derived from it. The changes apply for the period 22nd July 2020 to 31st December 2020 in relation to proposed and accepted applications for a DCO.
The provisions apply to:
- applications for non-material changes to a DCO;
- proposed and actual applications to make a material change to, or revocation of, a DCO as well as amendments proposed to DCOs in exceptional circumstances
- a proposal to include in the DCO the compulsory purchase of additional land that was not identified and included in the book of reference at the time of the original application and where consent has not been given by all persons with an interest in the additional land
- accepted applications for a DCO where an environmental statement may be inadequate
- a follow on application for development that requires an updated environmental statement or further information in addition to the updated environmental statement.
The requirement for publication of hardcopy documents at a place close to the proposed development will be substituted with electronic publication on a website maintained by the applicant or their agents.
This is to ensure that consultation requirements for NSIP’s, make up for restrictions on public access to local centres of information during the COVID-19 pandemic. DCO applicants will have to place more reliance on their application website during the period where the new 2020 Regulations apply.
Development Consent Orders Procedure Changes
The guidance that accompanies the regulations, suggests that applicants should engage proactively with consultees to find alternative means of providing necessary information and documents. This might arise particularly in rural areas if internet access is limited. Information could though be provided on a USB where there is computer access. For those unfamiliar with Information Technology, it might have to extend to a distanced, but more personal service via an agent or otherwise.
The government’s intention is not yet to dispense with the requirements for traditional consultations associated with applications. Applicants must still try to carry out detailed consultation exercises to understand which consultees are likely to require additional support in the current circumstances.
The changes are not retrospective and apply only after 22 July 2020 to applications that have not already triggered the relevant notice requirement under the previous Regulations.
This means that the need to have placed documents on deposit before that date could still be challenged, which of course could have occurred within the lock down periods. One hopes that the authorities will be sympathetic to applicants where document deposit has been difficult. Anyone objecting would, in any case, need to show that they had been disadvantaged as a result of the absence of physically deposited documents.
A long list of provisions regarding Notices have been amended and doubtless the revised check lists will soon become familiar. Extension of the temporary provisions beyond 2020 must be likely.
Please contact FGP if you have concerns or need information on the changes.