It has designated a new National Policy Statement (NPS) (73-page / 4.2MB PDF) for water and wastewater intended to help planning authorities reach a decision on large infrastructure projects of national significance.
An NPS is a document setting out the framework that the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) uses when making decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs). Its functions will transfer to a new national infrastructure directorate later this year with the relevant Secretary of State becoming the final decision-maker for larger infrastructure projects.
NSIPs are major infrastructure developments in England and Wales and comprise, for example, new power plants, large renewable energy projects, airports and major road projects.
The new NPS specifically refers to the need for two proposed NSIPs: a sewage treatment works scheme at Deephams in north east London and the Thames Tunnel sewage collection and transfer scheme. Although the Thames Tunnel project does not meet the statutory requirements for an NSIP the Government said it should be considered at a national level because of its importance.
In the NPS, the Government states that further investment in major waster water infrastructure projects is necessary due to population growth and urbanisation, to replace or improve dated infrastructure and in response to stricter environmental standards.
Currently, environmental regulator the Environment Agency (EA) and the water industry's economic regulator, Ofwat, draw up spending plans every five years in consultation with water and sewerage companies in England and Wales. The EA can propose projects for inclusion as part of the National Environment Programme (NEP). The Government said that any project included in the NEP would automatically be granted NSIP status.
"The Waste Water NPS will provide a degree of certainty for developers as to the demand for, and what will constitute, a nationally significant waste water infrastructure project in the future," said planning law expert Eluned Watson of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com; who added that the "coherent and robust" policies included in the statement would be welcomed by stakeholders such as the Environment Agency.
Waste water projects are subject to increasingly stringent environmental standards as a result of EU directives including the Water Framework and Urban Wastewater Treatment Directives, Watson said, and the new policy would help deliver those standards" she added.