Monday, 16 June 2014

Alarm bells ring as "Infrastructure Bill" sneaks easier loss of protection for public rights of way into law

More power stations? Simplez, thanks to new legislation on its way

Local people already concerned at how flawed the planning process is - especially as new housing schemes in Lancaster come under investigation and with plans in the works for a third nuclear power station at Heysham may be alarmed to hear that, in future, there will be little that can be done to stop some of them.

The easier loss of public rights of way is just a small part of the Infrastructure Bill which would also see the inclusion of changed trespassing laws which, subject to a 12 week consultation, would give fracking companies the right to drill horizontally for shale gas under private land, and companies working on the exploration of resources for new geothermal energy projects.

This week (Wednesday 18th June) sees the second reading of the Bill, which proposes that, in future, the Secretary of State will be able to hand over any amount of public land to the arms-length, non-departmental Government body, the Homes & Communities Agency. The HCA can then dispose of it to developers. There will be no need to go through local authority planning processes - the Secretary of State can give the green light without any local politicians or planners' involvement, just by consulting a panel of two people.

As for public rights of way, the proposed law allows any of them to be extinguished. There is no need for permission for easements (i.e. roads, powerlines, railways. drilling, tunnels, etc). And any existing laws that protects land and prevents it being built on, appear to be overriden by one simple enabling clause).

Needless to say, the construction industry is cock-a-hoop, arguing the Infrastructure Bill will set the tone for the coalition’s construction industry legacy, as it looks to convince voters it can deliver the programmes of work needed to upgrade the UK’s creaking energy, road and social infrastructure.

Construction News outlines in detail what the bill will mean for the construction industry, noting that among other headline reforms created by the bill is the Highways Agency being turned into a government-owned, contractor-operated company [Go-Co], managed by the Department for Transport, continuing its "assault on red tape and planning, but this time for major infrastructure projects, by simplifying the process for making changes to Development Consent Orders on nationally significant infrastructure projects."

In other words - stopping local people from having any say on what will be built in their area when it comes to major works like roads, projects like HS2 and more, campaigners point out, a 'simplification' process initiated by the Labour government and some of which was already instigated under the first Infrastucture Bill last year.

>The Guardian also noted that as part of this legislation, the coalition government has effectively abandoned a pledge to make all new homes "zero-carbon" by 2016, as new legislation in the Queen's speech would not apply to housing built in small developments and companies would be allowed to buy exemptions from new green standards. The paper reports the bill would exempt all small housing developments from the new green standards and allow builders to pay their way out of their full obligations. Where the developer chooses not to go "zero-carbon", they can build a home with emissions 44% lower than 2006 levels and make up for this by contributing to alternative green schemes at a rate of between £38 and £90 per tonne of carbon to be saved.

While there are elements of the proposed legislation that are welcomed, such as the proposal to tackle the growing problem of invasive alien species which pose a significant threat to ecosystems as well as damaging property and infrastructure, there is a lot that will impact on local planning and citizens ability to protest.

View the full Bill on the Parliamentary Publications web site

38 Degrees Petition

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