National Policy Statements (NPSs) will be the primary consideration in decision-making on 'nationally significant' infrastructure projects. They will set out the policies by which decisions on these infrastructure projects should be made. The NPSs are being prepared by the Secretary of State most interested in the infrastructure to which they relate (for example, the Secretary of State for Transport in relation to aviation). Projects are 'nationally significant' if they are for energy, transport, water and waste and are above certain thresholds. When complete, there will be twelve NPSs.
Public influence on NPSs is likely to depend on the level of media and Parliamentary interest. If such interest is lacking, the development of NPSs may be little more than a procedural formality. For example, the recent decision on the third runway at Heathrow was made far in advance of the production of the draft NPS on aviation.
There will be public consultation on all twelve draft NPSs. Comments from interested organisations and members of the public can be made to the Secretary of State preparing each NPS once the draft version is public. There will also be a number of consultation events held throughout England which members of the public are welcome to attend. This is a key point for campaigners to try and influence the development of policy.
Parliamentary scrutiny of the draft NPSs, which takes from 4-8 weeks, overlaps with the final weeks of the public consultation so that any comments received are allowed to inform a parliamentary resolution or the recommendations of any Select Committee.
Where applicable, 'appraisals of sustainability' of NPSs will incorporate a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). Appraisals will generally be published at the same time as the public consultation for a NPS.
The Secretary of State is required to pursue the objective of sustainable development in preparing NPSs, particularly with regard to good design and adaptation to and mitigation of climate change.
The most controversial NPSs, on aviation and nuclear power, are expected to designate general 'locations' as suitable for infrastructure development, without addressing the detail of specific sites. However, the likely locations for both are already well known.
Potentially, all NPSs could designate suitable 'locations' for development. In such cases, the Secretary of State will have to take 'appropriate steps' to publicise the draft NPS locally, and will also be required to consult relevant local authorities (including National Park Authorities) in deciding what is 'appropriate' consultation.
The Localism Act 2011 changed the process for preparing NPSs, in that Parliament will now have a chance to resolve that a draft NPS should not proceed if there are serious concerns about its contents. When a draft NPS has been presented to Parliament, it will have 21 days in which to pass a resolution stating that the NPS should not proceed.