New simplified Welsh infrastructure consents regime signed into law

Date:

The Infrastructure (Wales) Act received royal assent yesterday (3 June).

The legislation brings into effect reforms to how infrastructure is consented in Wales by establishing a unified process, known as an infrastructure consent (IC), for specific types of major infrastructure called significant infrastructure projects (SIPs).

SIPs include energy, transport, waste, water and gas projects above a certain size or capacity thresholds on land and in the sea around Wales.

The legislation also enables developers to use either the IC process or apply to a local planning authority, at the discretion of ministers.

Under the previous infrastructure consents process in Wales, developers of projects encompassing onshore and offshore elements had to follow several consent procedures in order to proceed with their projects. The new regime ends this, bringing marine and onshore consents together.

According to an impact assessment of the legislation, the new act “will unify consenting processes for applications where biodiversity issues might previously have been considered separately, and at a separate time, from other aspects of the decision on these proposals”.

Consequently, it adds, the act “intends to ensure biodiversity issues are considered as part of a wider decision on all major infrastructure projects”.

Campaigners had argued for a biodiversity net gain requirement to be embedded in the legislation. However, the Welsh government said in response that the legislation was not “the appropriate vehicle for that”.

Among its measures, the legislation sets a requirement for applicants behind development affecting the marine environment to produce a “marine impact report”, giving “details of the likely impact of a proposed development on the marine environment”.

Applicants will also have to submit “local impact reports” giving details of “the likely impact of a proposed development within the area of a local authority and community council”.

Projects will also be subject to habitat regulations and environmental impact assessment requirements.

Following the legislation receiving royal assent, the Welsh government has published a consultation on the pre-application consultation procedure for the new system.

The consultation document notes that during the scrutiny of the bill, members of the Welsh Assembly’s Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee “discussed the lack of detail on the face of the bill in relation to community engagement at the pre-application stage of the consenting process”.

The document says that the “policy justification for not being overly prescriptive in primary legislation is to enable pre-application requirements to be tailored effectively to different project categories”, adding that this is “particularly important given the wide range of projects which can be consented through the [act] both on land and in the Welsh marine area, where certain requirements may be appropriate for certain developments but not others”.

Among its questions, the consultation asks for opinions on what requirements “should be set out in subordinate legislation to ensure enhanced community involvement in the consenting process, whilst ensuring proportionate consultation for all development types captured by the [act]”. The consultation runs until 22 July.

Responding to the legislation receiving royal assent, Welsh first minister Vaughan Gething said: “There is no greater challenge than the climate emergency so I’m delighted this new law will play a key role in delivering the Welsh government’s renewable energy targets.

“As we move towards ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050, we need to transform our economy to power green prosperity. This new legislation will allow us to consent to such infrastructure projects in a robust, but timely manner.”

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