The LTC DCO application has been submitted by Highways England today (October 23rd 2020). What exactly does this mean?
A DCO is a Development Consent Order, which is the equivalent of planning permission for a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) such as the proposed Lower Thames Crossing.
We had a virtual meeting with the Planning Inspectorate yesterday to chat through the process, which we’ve highlighted below for you all.
Highways England have now submitted their DCO application to the Planning Inspectorate, who will take up to 28 days to decide whether to accept or reject the application. To be clear this is literally a decision by them as to whether to accept the actual application or not, it is not a decision on whether the DCO should be granted or not. They are simply deciding if the DCO application meets the standards required for examination.
During this time, host and neighbouring authorities (local councils) will have the opportunity to submit a representation on the Adequacy of Consultation.
We have forwarded our evidence of the inadequacies of the consultation process as we have experienced them to all local authorities, with a copy to the Planning Inspectorate too.
Once the Planning Inspectorate has accepted the DCO application, the relevant DCO documents will be released to the public. All impacted local authorities had asked HE to consider releasing the documents immediately when they submitted the DCO application, but HE have chosen to wait until the application is accepted, so we now have to wait a bit longer to view the documents.
Also during this stage of the process any member of the public will be able to register with the Planning Inspectorate to become an Interested Party by making a Relevant Representation. A Relevant Representation is a summary of a person’s views on an application, made in writing. Don’t worry it’s not as bad as it sounds, and we will do our best to help you through what to do at the relevant time!
We will of course do our best to keep everyone up to date as things progress, but we would also suggest that people sign up for the Planning Inspectorate’s email updates specifically for the LTC.
This should also ensure that you are alerted as soon as the registration for Interested Parties begins, so you can ensure that you can continue to be involved and have your say!
An Examining Authority is also appointed at the Pre-examination stage, and all Interested Parties will be invited to attend a Preliminary Meeting, run and chaired by the Examining Authority. The Preliminary Meetings are to arrange how the Examination will take place. Any meetings throughout the whole process will of course be subject to COVID-19 guidelines, meaning they will likely be held virtually. Although there is no statutory timescale for this stage of the process, we are expecting it to be around 5 months long from the Applicant’s formal notification and publicity of an accepted application.
The Planning Inspectorate has up to six months to carry out the examination. During this stage Interested Parties who have registered by making a Relevant Representation will be invited to provide more details of their views either verbally at meetings or in writing. Careful consideration is given by the Examining Authority to all the important and relevant matters including the representations of all Interested Parties, any supporting evidence submitted and answers provided to the Examining Authority’s questions set out in writing or posed at hearings.
Recommendation and Decision
The Planning Inspectorate must prepare a report on the application to the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps MP, including a recommendation, within three months of the close of the six month Examination stage. The Secretary of State then has a further three months to make the decision on whether to grant or refuse development consent. Although this is the usual timeline for decision, we have noticed that more recently and during the COVID-19 crisis many of the decisions have been delayed.
Once a decision has been issued by the Secretary of State, there is a six week period in which the decision may be challenged in the High Court. This process of legal challenge is known as Judicial Review.
Dependent on any Judicial Review results, if the DCO is still deemed granted construction of the project can commence.
We hope this helps explain what will come next now that the LTC DCO application has been submitted. Please do sign up for the official Planning Inspectorate updates, and most importantly please do register as an Interested Party when the time comes and continue to have your say!
LTC The Process – www.thamescrossingactiongroup.com/lower-thames-crossing-the-process/
Planning Inspectorate – The Process – https://infrastructure.planninginspectorate.gov.uk/application-process/the-process/
Planning Inspectorate – Virtual examination events – https://infrastructure.planninginspectorate.gov.uk/legislation-and-advice/advice-notes/advice-note-8-6-virtual-examination-events/
Highways England have a video about the DCO process too – https://youtu.be/ZLXE32D9e6w