Planning and transport are devolved matters, and the current and draft revised national policy statements for national networks apply only to England.

Background: What role do national policy statements play?

Nationally significant infrastructure projects

Under the Planning Act 2008, major infrastructure projects are classed as ‘nationally significant infrastructure projects’ (NSIPs). Part 3 of the Planning Act 2008 sets out the threshold above which transport projects, such as highways, railways and rail freight interchanges, are considered nationally significant.

Projects that fall under the NSIP regime require ‘development consent’ from the relevant Secretary of State (for transport projects, this is the Secretary of State for Transport), rather than planning permission from the local planning authority (LPA). The Planning Inspectorate will carry out an examination of proposed projects and make a recommendation to the Secretary of State. For further information about the examination process, see a guide by the Planning Inspectorate (accessed 20 March 2024).

National policy statements (NPS)

The Planning Inspectorate will examine, and the Secretary of State will decide, applications for NSIPs in line with the relevant national policy statement (NPS). The relevant NPS for transport projects, such as highways, railways and rail freight interchanges, is the national networks.

Updates to national networks NPS

The national networks NPS currently in force was designated in 2014.

In a written ministerial statement in July 2021, the then Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced that the government would review the national networks NPS. He said an update was needed to ensure the NPS reflected policy developments since 2014, such as the government’s October 2021 Net Zero Strategy and its Transport Decarbonisation Plan (July 2021).

The government published the draft revised national networks NPS on 6 March 2024.

Procedural requirements

NPSs are statutory documents that are designated under section 5 of the Planning Act 2008. The government may designate a draft NPS as an NPS only if the consultation and publicity requirements (set out in section 7) and the parliamentary requirements (set out in section 9) have been met.

How these requirements have been applied to the draft revised national networks NPS is set out in the table below.

For further information about the parliamentary procedural requirements, see section 2.1 of the Library briefing, Planning for nationally significant infrastructure projects (July 2017).

Requirements for designation of an NPS

Application to the draft revised national networks NPS

Section 7 of the Planning Act 2008: The Secretary of State must publish and consult on a proposed NPS as they consider it “appropriate in relation to the proposal”.

The government consulted on its proposed updates to the national networks NPS between March and June 2023.

House of Commons Standing Order 152H (PDF): When a proposed NPS is laid before the House of Commons, the Liaison Committee will designate a Select Committee or appoint an NPS Committee to carry out an inquiry into the proposed NPS.

The Transport Select Committee carried out an inquiry into the draft revised national networks NPS. It published a report in October 2023.

Section 9 of the Planning Act 2008: The Secretary of State must lay the proposed NPS that they intend to designate before Parliament. An NPS can be designated if the ‘consideration period’ of 21 sitting days passes without a vote or if the House of Commons votes to approve the NPS in that period.

On 6 March 2024, the government published the further revised national networks NPS, and the Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, presented the revised national networks NPSs to Parliament.

The ‘relevant period’ ends on 23 April 2024.

Substantive changes

The draft revised national networks NPS (March 2024) contains a number of substantive changes from the current NPS for national networks (December 2014).

Transport Committee report

As noted above, the Transport Committee undertook an inquiry into the draft revised national networks NPS. The inquiry received 27 written submissions and held two oral evidence sessions on 28 June and 19 July 2023.

The committee’s report  on the draft revised national networks NPS was published in October 2023. It identified eleven recommendations.

Government response to recommendations

The government published its response to the report on 6 March 2024 (updated 25 March 2024).

The government accepted three of the recommendations (including that there should be a review of the NPS at least every five years) and partially accepted one. It rejected five of the recommendations, which are summarised below along with the government’s reason for rejecting these:

  1. The committee recommended that the government should provide a definition of, and clear and comprehensive guidance on, “residual” greenhouse gas emissions. The government responded that this was not possible “as this depends on progress with decarbonisation within the whole economy” at the time of a decision.
  2. The committee recommended that the government should provide greater transparency on its approach to assessing NSIPs and making decisions on them. The government said it believed that the process was already robust and transparent.
  3. The committee recommended that the government should clarify what would normally be ‘associated development’ for NSIPs. The government pointed to guidance on associated development. It provides that it this is for the Secretary of State to decide on a case-by-case basis.
  4. The committee recommended that the draft revised NPS should be amended to require applicants to adhere to the cycling infrastructure design standards set out in CD 195 – Designing for cycle traffic. The government added additional text, requiring applicants to have “appropriate regard” to policies in existing or emerging local plans, local transport plans and local cycling and walking infrastructure plans. However, it did not add a reference to CD 195 – Designing for cycle traffic.
  5. The committee recommended that the government should consider the merits of restructuring the NPSs for transport to create an overarching NPS for transport infrastructure. The government said it did not consider it “appropriate to produce a single overarching NPS for transport under the current guidance”. It said the infrastructure covered within the NPSs for transport were “different in nature”.

The response also noted that the government had consulted on whether some types of associated development, such as driver rest facilities or service areas, should be considered part of NSIPs. The consultation closed on 6 October 2023. The government has not yet responded to the consultation.

The government initially did not respond to one committee recommendation: that draft revised NPS should make clear how the NPS could be a relevant policy consideration for non-NSIP schemes consented under the Transport and Works Act 1992.

The government published an updated response on 25 March 2024, rejecting the recommendation. The government said the draft revised NPS already provided “sufficient clarity” on the status of the NPS for non-NSIP schemes: the NPS may be a “material consideration”, but this would be decided on “a case-by-case basis”. The government said it considered “a one size fits all approach would be disproportionate” for non-NSIP schemes consented under the Transport and Works Act 1992. For further information about schemes consented under the 1992 Act, see government guidance.

Related posts