The Transport Select Committee took evidence this week on the draft National Policy Statement on National Networks (NN NPS) and on Government policy on the strategic road and rail networks more generally. Evidence was given by Network Rail on behalf of the Rail Delivery Group, the Rail Freight Group, the BPA, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and Robert Goodwill MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport among others.
There is agreement that the NN NPS is a clear statement that will bring clarity to the planning regime for nationally significant road and rail schemes but some concerns over which NSIPs for road and rail could claim to be covered by the NPS. It is hoped that the designation of the NPS will make a positive difference and create an aspiration to fast-track planning as with the NPS for Ports.
One of the Government’s key aims seems to be to ensure that whilst local opinion is taken into account, planning inquiries are not used as a forum to debate and discuss wider national policy, national need or national demand forecasts.
On roads, arguments were made for improvements to non-strategic links such as road links to ports as the first mile from the port is rarely on the strategic network but is a vital part of the journey. If Government takes into account this potential weak spot for the effectiveness of the national network that will be of great assistance to the success of ports.
On rail, much was made of Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges and clearly the NN NPS will make it easier to develop and approve SRFIs. Whilst the national need is well-addressed in the document, there were arguments for a recognition of regional need as the number of possible locations for SRFIs is low.
The Select Committee will publish its recommendations on the draft NPS in May and the Government must take these into account before publishing the final version of the NPS. Any changes to the document are likely to address winter resilience on the rail network following the difficult winter.
We expect the document to be designated in Autumn 2014.
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