18 July 2017

As part of a series of video interviews with industry leaders working in the infrastructure sector we interviewed Liz Dunn, a partner in the firm's Planning team. Liz discusses the role of planning in infrastructure delivery and also identifies three key areas for improvement. Listen to what she has to say in this video.

Video Transcript

The role of planning in UK infrastructure (0:07 – 0:38)

A well-resourced planning system is absolutely essential to the delivery of infrastructure, whether that's at the local authority level in terms of determining the planning applications that come before them, or actually the local authority's ability to engage and influence national infrastructure projects which come forward under the Planning Act regime.

It's really important that local authorities have the resource and the expertise to be able to engage properly in both of those systems and make sure the interests of the people that they are responsible for are properly met and served.

Why planning gets a bad press (0:38 – 2:03)

Planning gets a bad press I think because ultimately it's a process whereby there are winners and there are losers. It's also a political process – it doesn't just involve decisions made on fact. There are political influences that will change those decisions and perhaps make things that might seem obvious, perhaps with a political flavour to them, become something that is more complex and perhaps the more straightforward answer isn't the one that comes forward.

Planning is central to the delivery of infrastructure. It's central to the well running of all the systems that we rely on, be it building schools, building railways, power stations. It's important to what we do but all those things have an impact on the people that live around those projects and part of the work that we've been doing is actually understanding how those people trying to bring infrastructure forward can actually work smarter, work better to ensure that the public are engaged in that process and actually feel that they have a stake in what's going on and that their views have been taken into account.

And also I think it's important that those people that are affected feel that the projects that are coming forward are the best projects they could possibly be. They're not being palmed off with something that's cheap – we're doing it because it's cheap; we're doing it because it's easy. We're doing this because it's the best it can be within the constraints that we're working in.

How to improve the planning process for infrastructure projects (2:03 – 2:36)

In terms of improving the process and delivery of infrastructure I think there are three key areas that we need to look at. The first is policy – making sure that policy is clear and consistent so that people know what's going to come forward. The second is actually the consenting process. There have been big improvements there but I think there can be more done to make sure that that's streamlined and proportionate. And the third side is regulation. The regulation needs to be there – I think we'd all accept that – but it needs to be again a bit more proportionate to what's going on to make sure that it's not holding up that kind of delivery.

How clients can help themselves through the planning process (2:36 – 3:49)

So in terms of smoothing the planning process, there's a lot that clients can do to help themselves. The first thing, I think, is really articulating – and being able to articulate – what their project is at an early stage, making sure that people know what it is they're proposing. The second thing is linked to that and is public engagement; making sure you're engaging with the public and with regulators early so that they understand what the project is, they have a sense that they've had their say in that project and also that they understand what the impact, and importantly, what the benefits of that scheme are going to be to them.

Consultation is a really important part of the planning process but I think sometimes it can be seen as being a problematic or actually leading to issues arising that otherwise might not have happened. It can raise expectations amongst the public about actually how they're going to be engaged in the process and how a scheme might change and equally I think promoters may feel that that they're having to do work that they wouldn't otherwise need to do.

However, good consultation is absolutely integral to bringing the project forward smoothly through the planning process. It can really ensure that issues are understood, raised, discussed at an early stage and then you're not being tripped up at a later stage when things are being raised much later.

For more perspectives on infrastructure, read our industry report featuring 13 in-depth interviews with industry leaders and key decision makers in the infrastructure sector.

Perspectives on infrastructure

Good consultation is absolutely integral to bringing a project forward smoothly through the planning process. It can really ensure that issues are understood, raised, discussed at an early stage...
Liz Dunn, Burges Salmon

How can we improve the delivery of UK infrastructure?

How can we improve the delivery of UK infrastructure?

Views from industry leaders and key decision makers, along with survey results from 1,651 members of the general public.
Read report