Potential applicants for a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project will organise a consultation before an application is submitted. This is additional to the consultation that the Planning Inspectorate will organise once an application is submitted.
There are two distinct stages to the pre-application procedure. The applicant is required to:
Local groups should take the pre-application consultation stage seriously, and raise any issues at it that they would intend to pursue with the Planning Inspectorate later on. Representations at the pre-application stage should concentrate on the possible environmental impacts of a proposal on the site and local area.
If an issue of local impact is raised at the pre-application stage, which the developer then fails to properly address, the Planning Inspectorate is much more likely to need to address it through a full inquiry rather than merely relying on written representations.
Consultations carried out by the Planning Inspectorate will take a similar form to current consultation procedures for planning applications submitted to a local planning authority, but the Inspectorate is also required to invite relevant local authorities to submit a 'local impact report'.
The Inspectorate, like a local planning authority, will maintain a public register of applications it has received. Members of the public will be able to examine the applications and accompanying documents, as well as reports of pre-application consultations.
The Inspectorate will control the examination of each application, including deciding the principal issues to be examined. It will have the discretion to decide whether cross-examination of evidence will take place at hearings.
Campaigners who believe that cross-examination of evidence relating to a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project is necessary should look to influence the Parliamentary stage of the relevant NPS in the first instance.
If this opportunity has passed, the next important opportunity is when an application for development consent has been lodged. At this point the Planning Inspectorate has to invite all 'relevant' local authorities to submit a local impact report.
Local campaigners can, at the point an application is submitted to the Inspectorate, make a representation, raising particular issues of concern, to 'relevant' local authorities calling for them to reflect such concerns in the local impact report.
A separate representation to the Inspectorate would also be necessary at the point of the application being submitted. This should ideally be consistent with any representation made to a local authority.
However, it is important to note that at this stage, the Inspectorate can ignore representations that relate to the merits of the relevent NPS, representations considered 'vexatious or frivolous' and those that relate to 'compensation for compulsory acquisition of land or of an interest in or right over land'.