New UK infra body should be in place by 2012, report says

Norton Rose expects the government to have its new infrastructure planning body – the Major Infrastructure Unit –up and running by April 2012. The new body intends to replace the existing Infrastructure Planning Commission with a faster, more democratically accountable mechanism, but Norton Rose says the transition should take place smoothly.

Norton Rose, a London-based legal firm, has said in a recent report that the UK coalition government’s plans to replace the existing Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) with a faster and more democratically accountable infrastructure planning body by 2012 should proceed smoothly.

“What the coalition is really trying to do is create a new body within the same planning inspectorate. I anticipate that the handover from the existing body to the new body will be very smooth,” Nigel Hewitson, partner at Norton Rose and author of the report told Infrastructure Investor.

The new infrastructure body will be known as the Major Infrastructure Unit (MIU). It will differ from the IPC, launched by the Labour government in October 2009, in that it will require the secretary of state to ratify all its decisions, with national policy statements on infrastructure subjected to parliamentary approval. Currently, these statements, in which the government outlines its infrastructure plans, are only debated in parliament.

Norton Rose says that “part of the rationale behind these policies is to reduce the likelihood of legal challenges to decisions by removing the final decision from the new MIU”. The law firm also points out that MIU aims to speed up applications for major projects by providing a fast-track, one-stop-shop.

Hewitson said the new body will deal with applications for infrastructure projects much in the same way as IPC, highlighting that he doesn’t expect any disruption on account of the transition, which should be concluded by April 2012.

Originally set up under the UK government’s 2008 Planning Act, the IPC was founded to fast track projects, combining up to eight former planning processes into a single process. In its founding statement, the IPC claimed that it could cut the time taken to make approval decisions from seven years to less than a year, generating up to £300 million (€367 million; $462 million) in annual savings.

The scrapping of the IPC is set to be part of a Devolution and Local Government Bill, to be introduced later this year and which the government hopes will become law in 2011. The newly-formed coalition government announced its plans to abolish the IPC in May.