The Infrastructure Bill received royal assent on 12 February 2015. The changes introduced by this Act, most of which will come into force at a later date, are intended to make the delivery of infrastructure faster and more efficient through improvements to funding, management and refinement of the planning processes engaged. There are a few significant and controversial changes, but many of the provisions will not radically change the process for the delivery of infrastructure. However, the changes are welcomed as they should smooth the edges of some of the minor obstacles and delays associated with the delivery of major projects.
A summary of the changes brought by the Infrastructure Act 2015 can be found below:
- Highways: The creation of a new Government owned subsidiary company from 1 April 2015 to be known as Highways England will take over the responsibility for strategic roads from the Highways Agency. This change is intended to support the Government’s road investment programme over the next five to six years with the new body having access to long-term funding and greater accountability to Parliament.
- Fracking and energy exploitation: A new right to use land to exploit petrol or deep geothermal energy without notifying owners, which includes the right for hydraulic fracking under land. Previously access to these resources was by agreement. Voluntary commitments have been made by the energy industry to notify communities of the exercise of these rights, but if the Secretary of State is not satisfied he may introduce regulations setting up a statutory notice scheme. There are also a number of pre-conditions that must be satisfied before a well consent for fracking can be issued. The provisions allow for the drilling, boring, fracturing and alteration of deep-level land, installation of infrastructure, feasibility assessments, energy preparation and decommissioning. There is a right to leave the land in a different condition and the right to leave infrastructure or substances in the land. The Act expressly removes landowners’ liability for any loss or damage attributable to the exercise of these rights by another person.
- HCA and GLA: Greater powers are given to the Homes and Communities Agency and Greater London Authority to assemble land for disposal with powers to override certain easements and restrictions that may exist so it can be used and developed by future purchasers. These powers put the HCA and GLA on the same footing as local authorities. The extension of the HCA’s remit as a land disposal agency is intended to speed up the sale of surplus and redundant public land and increase the amount of previously developed land available for new homes.
- Planning procedure: Changes to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to streamline aspects of planning procedure to prevent delays on schemes for which planning permission has been granted, includes a new provision for the ‘deemed discharge’ of certain planning conditions if a planning authority has not responded to an application within a prescribed period. The exclusions and time period will be set out in secondary legislation.
- Mayor of London: New powers are given to the Mayor of London to make development orders granting planning permission for development on specified sites within London. This is intended to overcome cross-boundary planning issues and remove barriers to major development.
- NSIPs: Administrative changes to the nationally significant infrastructure regime through amendments to the Planning Act 2008 are intended to improve the administrative process. The changes include the early appointment of inspectors in the application process, a panel of two inspectors may decide NSIP applications (currently a single person or a panel of three to five people can be appointed) and a simplified procedure to make material and non-material changes to approved DCOs.
- Land Registry: Responsibility for the registration of local land charges is transferred to the Land Registry (currently the responsibility of local authorities) and an extension of its powers to provide information and register services. Administration and computerisation of services and fees currently varies across the country, so the transfer of responsibilities to the Land Registry, who will provide a composite and fully computerised system, is intended to improve the conveyancing process, access to data and standardise fees.
- Invasive non-native species: New powers to compel landowners to take action on invasive and non-native species and permit others to enter the land and carry out works for their eradication. These species, for example water primrose, have a huge economic impact particularly on agriculture and the construction, development and infrastructure sectors. Currently their eradication is reliant on voluntary agreements between landowners and DEFRA to undertake works and gain access.
- Zero-carbon homes: Changes to the provision of zero carbon homes to allow developers to pay into a pot instead of delivering carbon-cutting measures onsite.