Snapdragon’s Julian Seymour reports on the BPF’s breakfast event – Size and Delivery Matters: Business and Commercial NSIPS

The bravery of the BPF knows no bounds. For their latest feat, they decided to tackle the potentially dry toast of Commercial NSIPs at their most recent breakfast briefing, Size & Delivery Matters. It turned out to be a Marmite event – lots of apparently interested commercial developers listened intently to the experiences of John Rhodes (Quod), Jan Bessell (Pinsent Masons) and Stephen Norris (London Paramount). Less happy were the volume house builders who still don’t have access to the new regime.

Leaving aside the breakfast metaphor, the audience were warmed up by the ever capable John Rhodes, and Pinsent Mason’s new recruit, Jan Bessell (the freshly reformed Planning Inspector who presided over the Thames Tideway Tunnel NSIP application), and Steve Norris. Steve spoke eloquently in support of the new NSIP process for the London Paramount proposals, which by his own admission will use land at the back of the beyond – which happens to have a pretty good rail connection.

Some themes emerged quite quickly, or more accurately, smouldering frustrations. Philip Barnes (Barratt Homes) expressed his incredulity that the Government could plan for major infrastructure without planning the homes they claim are so desperately needed. For house builders stuck in strategic planning limbo the NSIP regime looks incredibly appealing: more certainty over outcome and investment, reducing outlandishly long development and planning programmes and potentially side stepping local opposition.

To paraphrase Philip, European governments would not consider HS2 without considering the implications it has for how it could help the current housing crisis. Depressingly, Steve Norris probably hit the nail on the head when he implied that housing wouldn’t be joining the NSIP process until it managed to get itself out of the Government’s too difficult pile. And from where we sit that doesn’t seem like it will be happening any time soon.

For the wider NSIP regime, the ongoing concern was a lack of flexibility in the system. Once approved, a change to an application is likely to see most of the consultation process being expensively re-run – just ask EDF at Hinkley Point. That single issue may be what has restricted the number of commercial developers who otherwise might want to use the NSIP system (London Paramount is the only volunteer so far) as they need the ability to update and evolve their plans to match changing market conditions.

Fortunately, the Inspectorate is going to change the rules, but won’t yet tell us how. The Inspectorate’s advice: watch this space….