At our recent community events, lots of people had questions about the planning process and how it works. This included specific questions about what are known as Development Consent Orders – or DCOs for short.
To help answer some of the regular questions we receive, Vanessa Ralph, Land & Consents Director at East West Railway Company, explains a little more about the DCO process and how you can get involved.
What is a Development Consent Order?
A Development Consent Order (DCO) is a piece of law that gives authority to East West Railway Company (EWR Co) to build the new railway.
Before we can start building the final section of East West Rail – which involves a new railway between Bedford and Cambridge – we need to do lots of planning to make sure we introduce the right kind of railway. This includes the route the railway takes, where stations will be located and lots of other considerations like where to build train depots and how to protect the environment.
These decisions are not taken lightly and there are lots of checks and reviews of plans before the railway can be built. Ultimately, the final plans need to be approved by government before any building can begin. For major projects like East West Rail, this requires a type of approval known as “development consent”, which is granted via a DCO.
How is the DCO different from ordinary planning permission?
In short, a DCO authorises a nationally significant infrastructure project (sometimes referred to as an NSIP), whereas planning permission is required for development that does not meet the threshold for an NSIP, such as the construction of new buildings (like a new housing development) or changes to existing buildings.
In the case of buildings, a planning application is prepared by the applicant (usually a developer) that is submitted to and considered by the local planning authority, which then decides whether or not to grant planning permission.
For nationally significant infrastructure projects, the application for a DCO is prepared by the applicant (EWR Co, in the case of EWR) but the application is decided by the relevant Secretary of State (the Secretary of State for Transport, in the case of EWR). To make the decision, the Secretary of State considers a report that has been prepared by the Planning Inspectorate, which examines the application on the Secretary of State’s behalf.
What are the stages of the DCO process?
There are six key stages and approvals as part of the DCO process:
- Recommendations and decision
So where is East West Rail in this process?
We’re currently in the first stage of the DCO process: the pre-application phase. During this stage, we explore the hundreds of possible proposals and designs for the railway, for example:
- The railway’s route
- How different routes cross roads and rivers, and impact the local environment
- How the line could join existing railway lines
- Infrastructure changes
- Ways we can prioritise the environment, climate and biodiversity
During this phase, our team identifies and develops the best options for the railway and its future users. This includes working alongside local communities and other stakeholders to test ideas and opportunities when plans are at an early stage.
We then have a legal duty to hold a public consultation on more detailed proposals before we can apply for a DCO. We call this a statutory consultation.
More detailed information on some of the processes we will undertake in the pre-application phase is provided below.
What progress has been made so far – and when will you hold the statutory public consultation?
We’re at the early stages of the pre-application phase. There are lots of ideas to explore and we’ve tested our proposals and emerging options with the public in two non-statutory public consultations. These are consultation exercises held at EWR Co’s discretion. By sharing plans and options for the railway from the outset, we can gather ideas and get feedback to shape our plans as they evolve. It also means we can factor in issues or concerns people have early in the process.
We’re currently reviewing feedback from more than 9,000 responses to our most recent non-statutory public consultation. This includes more than 160,000 individual comments and our team is reviewing each and every one of these to help shape more detailed proposals.
We’re using the consultation responses alongside environmental, economic and technical studies to make sure we’re building the right railway for communities between Oxford and Cambridge. These more detailed plans will be shared for comment in a statutory consultation, which we’ll carry out before submitting our DCO application.
What happens next – and how can people get involved?
There are lots of activities and documents we still need to prepare before we can apply for a DCO. These include:
- Feedback on non-statutory consultation, including confirming the Preferred Route Alignment for the new railway between Bedford and Cambridge
- Developing more detailed designs and plans to share at statutory consultation
- Preparing a Preliminary Environmental Information Report – this will set out the potential environmental impacts of the plans for EWR and how we might be able to address these
- Developing a Statement of Community Consultation, which will outline how we plan to consult local communities about the Project.
- Preparing statutory consultation materials, including the Consultation Document, Technical Appendices and Response Form
- Holding a statutory consultation on detailed design proposals for EWR
- Analysing consultation feedback
- Developing detailed designs to include in the DCO application, which will be informed by the consultation feedback and environmental studies
- Preparing an Environmental Statement – which will be based on a detailed Environment Impact Assessment
- Preparing DCO application documents
- Submitting DCO application
The statutory consultation will be an important further opportunity for people to review and comment on detailed proposals for EWR before we apply for a DCO. As for the non-statutory consultations, feedback from these consultations are already helping shape the designs that will be included in the application. We encourage as many people as possible to get involved and have their say during the next consultation.
How will I be kept updated as the DCO process progresses?
The best way to stay in touch with us is to join our mailing list. You’ll receive a regular newsletter with project updates as well as key project announcements. You can sign up to our newsletter here.
You can also keep up to date on DCO applications on the Planning Inspectorate website. Once the application has been submitted, you can sign up as an ‘Interested Party’ to get involved.
Find out more about the DCO process and how to get involved on the Planning Inspectorate website here.
Who can I contact for more information?
We hope we've managed to cover all of your questions in the above. But if you'd like any more information on the planning process, then please do get in touch.
Phone: 0330 134 0067
Email: [email protected]
Post: FREEPOST East West Rail