New planning policies for major road and rail schemes need clarifying against Net Zero laws, says Transport Committee
20 October 2023
The Transport Committee has published its analysis of the Government’s proposals to revamp planning policies for nationally significant road and rail infrastructure projects.
- Read the report Summary (HTML)
- Read the full Report (HTML)
- Read the full Report (PDF) [459KB]
- Inquiry: National Networks National Policy Statement
- Transport Committee
The policies are contained in a draft revised National Networks National Policy Statement (NNNPS), published by the Department for Transport (DfT) earlier this year.
In its report, the cross-party Committee urges ministers to redraft sections that would be used to determine whether major new projects are compatible with Net Zero legislation, based on the carbon emissions that would be produced during and after their construction.
The Government said it wants to revise the NNNPS to avoid legal challenges that have delayed new projects by clarifying how planning policies would interact with climate legislation. But the Committee warns that the draft NNNPS wouldn’t achieve this in its current form.
MPs also make recommendations on the way DfT looks at different options for projects and road-traffic demand forecasts, and how to make its decision-making more transparent. There are also recommendations on biodiversity, active travel, and restructuring the various national policy statements for transport.
Transport Committee Chair Iain Stewart MP said:
“Flaws in the current NNNPS are partly to blame for the perennial problem of why major infrastructure projects become delayed by legal challenges, so there is a lot riding on this work to produce a new set of planning policies.
“But a number of witnesses, including some who themselves launched legal challenges against such projects, told us the current draft won’t provide the legal certainty that DfT needs. One of the Government’s objectives in revising the NNNPS is to balance the Net Zero goals with infrastructure projects that could increase greenhouse gas emissions. Given the concerns we heard, we urge the Government to amend the draft NNNPS to provide a definition of ‘residual’ emissions and to state explicitly its understanding of the legal precedent for permitting major infrastructure schemes which result in increases in emissions.
“The draft NNNPS should also promote more scrutiny of the way the Government examines the options for building new road or rail schemes, and shows the evidence behind its forecasts that more congestion is inevitable if we don’t build more motorways and A roads.”
Aligning new infrastructure with Net Zero
Campaigners and industry groups said the draft NNNPS fails to adequately set out how new infrastructure projects should be assessed on the carbon emissions they will produce. They argued this could lead to legal challenges to development consent orders as the Government wouldn’t be able to explain how an order would align with legally binding Net Zero goals.
The draft NNNPS does not take note of the Climate Change Committee’s recommended that new projects should only be permitted if they “meaningfully support cost-effective delivery of Net Zero and climate adaptation”.
There was also criticism of the way that the draft NNNPS permits “residual” emissions – which result during construction of new infrastructure – while lacking a clear definition or criteria of what “residual” means.
MPs say the Government should respond to the Climate Change Committee's recommendation on reviewing the roads programme and explain why this recommendation will or will not be taken forward. Obtaining clarity on this issue is important for establishing whether legal challenges to new projects on climate grounds are likely to continue. The draft NNNPS should also be amended to provide a definition of "residual" greenhouse gas emissions.
Forecasting future demand
The Committee recommends that DfT should be more transparent and open to scrutiny in the way it judges the need for major new infrastructure projects.
Witnesses argued that the Department is overly led by a “predict and provide” approach, where it seeks to deliver new road projects based on forecasts that congestion and demand from motorists will increase. There is insufficient transparency on how these demand calculations are made, or whether DfT models alternative options such as rail connections, and if doing so would reduce or reverse those increases in demand for road transport that are forecast. Exploring such alternative options would ensure the draft NNNPS is consistent with goals to cut emissions.
The Department should publish its National Transport Model – used for forecasting how development options impact congestion – so that it can be independently tested and verified. It should also model and report on a wider range of scenarios where traffic levels on the strategic road network are a) reduced and b) maintained at current levels and ambition for rail patronage is increased.
In its response to its call for evidence on freight, logistics and the planning system, the Department for Transport should address whether some types of associated development such as driver rest facilities or service areas, which are vital to the road freight supply chain, would be more effectively delivered if considered as part of major infrastructure and approved by Development Consent Order.
Review the NPS every five years
The Government should introduce five-year fixed-term reviews for the NNNPS, with a shorter term where significant policy or need change warrants it. This does not mean that wholesale revisions should be made to the NNNPS every five years, but the reviews would be an opportunity for DfT to consider the wider policy environment and Government priorities.
Active travel improvements
The Committee recommends that the draft NNNPS be amended to include a requirement for new road projects to adhere to the CD 195 Standard for Highways. This should ensure adequate cycling provision on motorways and trunk roads, particularly at crossing points used by cyclists, pedestrians, horse riders and adjoining infrastructure for vulnerable road users.
Applying the NNNPS to smaller schemes
The draft revised NNNPS should be amended to clarify how policies in the NNNPS could be a relevant consideration for smaller non-NSIP schemes which are currently consented under the Transport and Works Act. This would ensure smaller schemes are less exposed to legal challenges and can be built without delay.
Restructuring National Policy Statements for transport
The Government should consider restructuring the National Policy Statements for transport into one over-arching Transport NPS, which covers National Networks, airports and ports. This would be used for determining new infrastructure for road, rail, strategic rail freight interchanges, ports, and airports. Ministers should then provide a clear rationale if they decide not to.
The draft NNNPS does not include clause 5.29 of the current NNNPS, which requires the Secretary of State to have regard for whether enough will be done to mitigate a new development’s harms to sites of biodiversity or geological interest. The Committee says the draft NNNPS should be amended to include Clause 5.29. If the Government declines, it must explain why.