Planning and Highways: Development Consent Orders

As the number of Development Consent Order (DCO) applications reaches a new high, Invicta Law’s Nagla Stevens provides an overview of the DCO process.

What is a DCO or an NSIP?

The Planning Act 2008 (‘the 2008 Act’) sets up an alternative system for obtaining planning permission for large infrastructure projects. The aim is to simplify and speed up the process of obtaining planning permission for this type of development. Rather than applying to the local planning authority for planning permission, the applicant (also known as the DCO promotor) will apply to the relevant Secretary of State (‘SoS’) for permission.

These projects are either referred to as an NSIP (a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project) or a DCO (Development Consent Order); the latter is the name of the document that grants permission for the NSIP.

The DCO combines the grant of planning permission with a range of other consents, which would ordinarily require separate consents under different regimes. For example, a development consent order can also include rights to compulsorily purchase land.

What type of development is covered by an DCO?

Section 14 of the 2008 Act sets out the type of proposals that can be determined via the DCO route. It can include projects in the field of energy, transport, water and waste, for example; highway related development, airport related development and hazardous waste facilities.  Each of the project types listed in section 14 of the 2008 is further qualified by certain criteria and thresholds to bring it within the DCO regime (see sections 15-30A of the 2008 Act).

What is the DCO process and procedure?

There are 6 stages in the DCO process:

  1. Pre-application: Before submitting a DCO application, potential applicants have a statutory duty to carry out consultation on their proposals with certain specified persons, including statutory undertakers, the local planning authority and the Highway Authority.
  2. Acceptance: The Planning Inspectorate (PINS), on behalf of the SoS, has 28 days to decide if the application meets the criteria to be accepted for examination.
  3. Pre-examination: the public may register with the PINS to become an interested party by making a relevant representation. A relevant representation is a written summary of a person’s views on an application.
  4. Examination: PINS must carry out the examination within a 6-month period. During this stage interested parties are invited to provide more details of their views and the applicant is given an opportunity to respond.
  5. Recommendation and Decision: PINS prepare a report on the application to the relevant SoS, including a recommendation, within 3 months of the close of the Examination stage. The relevant SoS then has a further 3 months to make the decision on whether to grant or refuse development consent.
  6. Potential Legal Challenges: A 6-week period during which the SoS’s decision may be challenged via Judicial Review in the High Court.

What are the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects currently in progress?

Of the 29 current applications 14 are energy related and the other 15 are transport projects. The energy projects include offshore windfarms, a nuclear power station and a solar farm. The transport projects include 3 rail freight projects and a range of highway improvement – 9 in total being promoted by Highways England.

Source: The Planning Inspectorate, 21 May 2019

The Planning and Highways Team are currently and have advised local authorities on a number of DCO applications.

For further advice in respect of planning matters please contact Invicta Law’s Planning and Highways team on 03000 415863 or email


Contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute professional or legal advice.  Invicta Law cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.


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