After several months of debate, the Infrastructure Act was given royal assent on the 12th February 2015, introducing a number of important changes. The Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech with the intention to:
“bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning law to improve economic competitiveness”.
On the day of its assent, Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, expanded on this, explaining that:
“This act will hugely boost Britain’s competitiveness in transport, energy provision, housing development and nationally significant infrastructure projects. Cost efficient infrastructure development is all part of the government’s long term economic plan, boosting competitiveness, jobs and growth.”
The Act has resulted in a number of policy changes. The majority of these are relatively mundane and are unlikely to engender much public scrutiny; however, there are a few high profile and controversial changes. Here we summarise some of the most important changes for local authorities, as well as communities.
The Act has introduced changes to Local Land Charges, transferring responsibility from individual local councils in England and Wales to the Land Registry, which will be providing a broader range of services. This was recommended in the ‘Land Registry, Wider Powers and Local Land Charges’ report, which suggested a need to standardise costs and provide a more predictable service.
This has been criticised by the Local Government Association (LGA), who have suggested that local councils are best placed to meet the needs of businesses and local residents. They have also raised concerns about the costs involved in making technical changes to local council systems, as well as the disruption it would cause to the property market. It’s estimated that local councils have about 20 million entries on their registers of Local Land Charges, across 350 local councils.
Community Rights and energy exploration (fracking and renewable energy)
Individuals within or connected to a community have been given the rights to buy a stake in renewable electricity schemes. This appears to have been well received, as local residents are now able to receive some of the financial benefits of local electricity production.
However, changes to hydraulic fracking have been a lot more controversial. The Act allows energy companies the right to exploit petroleum or deep geothermal energy, without notifying the owners of the land, as long as it’s at least 300 meters below surface level. They also have the right to put any substance underground, to change the condition of the land, and to leave material behind.
Not surprisingly, campaigners, such as Simon Clydesdale from Greenpeace UK, have criticised these changes, suggesting that the new legislation is encouraging fracking and is so loosely worded that it could possibly permit the burial of nuclear waste.
Discharge of Planning Conditions
The Act makes it clear that certain types of planning conditions can be discharged if on application to the local authority, the developer has not had a decision made within the prescribed period. It also allows the Secretary of State to make a development order relating to the discharge of a planning condition in an area. This would mean that local authorities would not be able to stop these developments for lack of written approval.
Mayoral Development Orders
These orders provide greater powers to the Mayor of London to grant planning permission for development on specified sites within Greater London. It’s been seen as a useful reform to make it easier for planning permission to be granted on complex sites that cross local authority boundaries. This has been viewed as important for tackling London’s housing shortage.
Although not all of the changes are as high profile as fracking, it’s important that local authorities take time to examine the Infrastructure Act, and to make sure that they are ready to respond to the new legislative environment.
By Steven McGinty, Idox
- Infrastructure Bill (House of Lords, 2014)
- Infrastructure Act 2015 (UK Parliament, 2015)
- The Infrastructure Bill 2014 and Changes to Local Land Charges (Chappell, 2014)
- Local Government Association (LGA): Infrastructure Bill, Third Reading, House of Lords (Local Government Association, 2014)
- Land Registry, Wider Powers and Local Land Charges (Land Registry, 2014)
- UK to allow fracking companies to use ‘any substance’ under homes (The Guardian, 2014)
- Infrastructure Act will get Britain building (UK Government, 2015)
- Queen’s Speech: New Infrastructure Bill to contain further planning changes (Planning Resource, 2014)