25 SEP 2023


Neil Humphrey, Chair of ACE’s Procurement and Pipeline Advocacy Group, reflects on the Government’s ongoing consultation into operational reforms to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) consenting process.

Infrastructure development is the backbone of any modern society, encompassing projects that range from transportation networks to energy systems and urban development.

ACE members, instrumental in the development of these projects, are at the forefront of transforming blueprints into reality. Our members navigate complex planning and consenting processes, ensuring that projects proceed smoothly and efficiently.

Recently, the UK government initiated a consultation seeking the views of industry and other stakeholders on proposed reforms to streamline the planning and consenting processes for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs).

Recognising the Need for Reform:

The government's consultation, part of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project Reform Action Plan, acknowledges the pressing challenges facing the current planning and consenting systems.

Delays, complexity, and a lack of clarity have plagued these processes, posing significant hurdles for ACE members and others. The reality is that these challenges hinder project progress, increase costs, and create uncertainty - all of which directly impact the ability of the sector to deliver.

Delays in the pre-application process and ambiguity concerning consultation requirements have a direct impact on project timelines and budgets. Our members are often tasked with navigating these intricacies, which can strain resources and hinder the overall efficiency of projects. Therefore, any reforms aimed at streamlining these processes are of great interest and importance to the ACE members and industry more widely.

A Streamlined Pre-Application Services:

One key proposal within the consultation is the introduction of a new and chargeable pre-application service by the Planning Inspectorate. This enhanced service aims to provide more comprehensive support to applicants during the critical pre-application stage. ACE members stand to benefit significantly from this proposal. Clearer guidelines and better opportunities to address key project issues upfront can enhance project planning, reduce potential pitfalls, and lead to more successful project outcomes.

The consultation also suggests that the Planning Inspectorate should offer merits and procedural advice while maintaining impartiality. This proposed shift could have profound implications for our members. By providing early insights into potential examination issues, this advice can empower consulting engineers to make informed decisions and engage in proactive problem-solving. This proactive approach can lead to smoother project progression and improved project outcomes.

Clarity on Requirements:

The proposed reforms also emphasise the need to provide greater clarity for applicants on who to consult and when. This is a welcome change given there is aften some complexity in navigating stakeholder landscapes. Clear guidelines ensure that the sector engages with the right stakeholders at the right time, minimising confusion and streamlining the consultation process. This, in turn, can lead to more effective consultation outcomes and reduced consultation fatigue.

Building Skills for Infrastructure Delivery:

The consultation recognises the need to build the skills necessary to support infrastructure delivery. Infrastructure projects, especially in the context of a rapidly changing world with sustainability and climate change at the forefront, require a highly skilled workforce.

The demand for skilled professionals who understand the intricacies of sustainable infrastructure development is rising. However, there are challenges that need to be addressed. Many professionals currently working in the field might not have the skills required to meet the evolving needs of the industry. Moreover, new professionals entering the sector need specialised training to work on the complex and innovative projects required to tackle global challenges.

ACE members are not just practitioners but also educators and mentors in their field. They play a pivotal role in training the next generation of engineers and ensuring that existing professionals keep pace with industry advancements. As infrastructure projects become more intricate, it's essential that engineers are equipped with the knowledge and skills to navigate this evolving landscape effectively.

The political environment:

In today's dynamic political landscape, infrastructure development has often become a political football. It's an arena where decisions can have far-reaching consequences, not just in terms of economic growth and societal progress, but also for the reputation of those involved. The public and stakeholders are increasingly engaged in infrastructure matters, making it a central concern for governments and policymakers. As a result, infrastructure projects have the potential to impact not only the physical environment but also the political environment.

However, a strong consenting process alone is not sufficient. To navigate the political landscape successfully, there must be a robust pipeline of infrastructure projects that align with national priorities. A steady flow of well-defined projects not only keeps the infrastructure sector vibrant but also provides tangible achievements to showcase. It's a proactive approach that can help minimize the "stop-and-start" nature of infrastructure development, creating stability in an otherwise politically charged environment.


The consultation on reforming the planning and consenting processes for NSIPs represents a significant opportunity for ACE members to influence the future of infrastructure development in the UK. Their invaluable insights and expertise can shape reforms that reduce delays, enhance clarity, and build a skilled workforce. As our members continue to play a pivotal role in delivering essential infrastructure projects, their views and experiences are vital in ensuring that the proposed reforms align with the sector's needs and aspirations.

In this collaborative effort between the government and industry stakeholders, the goal is clear: to pave the way for more efficient, sustainable, and impactful infrastructure development. ACE members are active participants in this transformation. Through contributions to the consultation, we can help create a future where infrastructure projects are delivered seamlessly, benefitting communities and the nation as a whole.

Neil  Humphrey

Neil Humphrey

COO, Infrastructure & Environment

Neil is COO, Waterman Group and Chair of Pipeline and Procurement at ACE.