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Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects Forum 2021 day 4 – key takeaways

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Senior Account Manager, Tom Warren, attended the fourth and final virtual instalment of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects Forum 2021, which focused on implementing the DCO and progressing projects to construction. He recalls his three key-takeaways below.

1. Providing flexibility in the DCO

Where possible, major infrastructure projects should allow for flexibility in their design during the pre-application stage. There is increasing pressure from landowners, communities and stakeholders for ‘fixed information’ as they strive to know all the details about a scheme as soon as possible. However, leaving options for implementation open post-consent enables the developer to make improved decisions and find better solutions based on the most up to date information available.

This applies to compulsory purchase orders and temporary possession, with the aim of being able to give the greatest amount of land back to landowners. Also, technological advancements and innovation may allow for cost effective and environmentally friendly solutions to be developed post-consent. Providing clear messaging to communities on how this would work is vital to securing support and to manage their expectations.

2. The role of the integrator

The transition from major project planning to delivery is a crucial process involving the handover of responsibilities between the consenting and construction teams. Typically, contractors would get involved in the project once the planning phase is complete, but we are seeing a shift in the ‘traditional’ contractor responsibilities so they have greater input during this period.

By inputting earlier, contractors can feed in expert knowledge, ideas and solutions, creating a better end product and giving themselves greater flexibility during construction. Ensuring they’re across any conditions attached to the consent decision at an earlier stage also reduces the risk of issues when it comes to discharging them during construction.

One way to help bridge this gap is to create an ‘integrator’ role, helping to manage the transition between planning and construction. The integrator would work closely with the consents and construction managers to reduce tensions between often conflicting priorities, and ensure the smooth handover of any DCO requirements.

The integrator would also provide continuity to ensure the valuable work carried out during the planning phase is captured and understood by the construction delivery team. Often years of work goes into creating the public narrative for how projects are intended to be delivered, explaining how decisions have been made, and building connections and trust with stakeholders, so providing this continuity will lead to effective delivery, while minimising programme delays and maintaining the developer’s reputation.

3. Through the eyes of local authorities

Engaging with local authorities early on the content and precise wording of any requirements within the DCO helps prevent issues occurring at later stages. Like developers, lots of time and resource is required from local authorities. By discussing what the developer is intending to submit, and when they need local authorities to review it by, helps to plan the appropriate resource. Roy Romans, Central Bedfordshire Council, highlighted early discussions as being crucial to allow enough time for submission, determination and implementation, especially if there are many submissions which require approval.

Another issue raised was the fact most local authority planning systems are not configured to manage DCOs. All planning documents are uploaded onto the project’s page on the Planning Inspectorate’s website, but information quickly becomes archived and communities are unable to refer back to many documents. As a result of COVID-19, the shift to a digital-first approach may expedite local authorities improving their digital functionality, but this is still a live issue to address on many projects.

You can look back at our key-takeaways from all instalments of this years Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects Forum 2021 here:

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