Why Germany plans to use automatic approvals to speed up infrastructure projects
15 November 2023
Amid the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, Germany embarked on the rapid construction of new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals.
The terminals allowed Germany, which had become reliant on gas pipelines from Russia, to pivot to importing LNG. Unusually, construction took just a few months in 2022, whereas normally such projects would take years.
At the end of last year, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz donned a hi-vis jacket to celebrate the speed at which the country built and linked its first floating gas terminal at the North Sea port of Wilhelmshaven, to replace lost Russian supplies. “Many said it would be impossible to get it built this year,” he said. “When we work together we can do things at great speed: That’s Germany’s new tempo.”
In a bid to make good on those words, Germany’s government announced plans in September for new measures speed up approvals for new construction, amid a raft of other measures to cut bureaucratic red tape and boost its ailing economy.
The ‘Germany Pact’ (Der Deutschland-Pakt) promised an acceleration in planning, approvals and implementation between federal and state governments.
It pledged that federal and state governments would work together on projects including:
- Earlier communication between project developers, authorities, citizens and environmental associations, in a bid to resolve conflicts at an earlier stage.
- Digitalisation in the planning and approval process, as well as the potential use of AI, with data from ongoing and completed approval processes used to train that AI.
- Simplification in the construction of buildings, with standardised requirements for building permits in the different state building regulations. A digital building application will be implemented nationwide in every German state by the end of 2023.
- A simplified and standardised approval process for heavy transport used in the construction of wind turbines.
- Accelerating important road and rail projects by simplifying and shortening official procedures “as much as possible”.
Agreement on pact
Last week, the Chancellor and heads of government of Germany’s federal states emerged from a conference to announce that they have agreed the “pact” for accelerating planning, approval and implementation of new projects.
Following the conference, a statement from the German government said, “A lot of things in Germany are currently too slow and too bureaucratic – that needs to change as quickly as possible. Planning and approval procedures must be significantly accelerated.”
As part of this, German government sources indicated to German media that certain applications for infrastructure projects will receive automatic approval if the relevant authority hasn’t given approval in time.
Bauindustrie, a body that represents some of Germany’s biggest construction companies, welcomed signs from government that it was willing to get involved to speed up construction of infrastructure projects.
But managing director Tim-Oliver Müller said, “It can’t just be an announcement. We need real and, above all, noticeable progress.
He also warned that the package focused too heavily on rail infrastructure projects instead of also taking into account other transport infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.
“We have to become faster when it comes to building. From this point of view, it is pleasing that the MPK is in favour of the use of building information modelling (BIM). However, BIM is just a tool. In order to fully exploit the potential of digitalisation, we must work together when planning and building,” he added.