The Growth and Infrastructure Bill – What does it mean for the natural environment?

As part of its increasingly aggressive drive to achieve growth, the Coalition Government have introduced the Growth and Infrastructure Bill (G&I Bill) to Parliament. Slotted in to the gap left behind by the Lords Reform Bill, the G&I Bill feels somewhat shoehorned into Parliament and is now being pushed through at pace.

As the Localism Bill made its way through Parliament we were all fully engaged with the process. In comparison, this new bill seems to be sneaking its way through with its second reading due today. This Bill appears to be at odds with the Localism Act, placing economic interests before both local people and the environment. While it doesn’t mention ancient woodland directly, we feel the direction of travel poses a very real threat.

But what fireworks does this new act bring and what will go on the bonfire in its wake? Here are the elements that I think will have the most impact on the natural environment:

Speeding up the planning system…

  • The 2008 Planning Act brought in the major infrastructure regime whereby major projects deemed to be of national significance are examined by the Planning Inspectorate and determined by the Secretary of State within a year. Currently this approach only covers nationally important infrastructure projects, such as airports and very large energy and waste developments. The G&I Bill will extend the remit of this process, but only defines this as far as “economically essential development, like manufacturing parks or big leisure parks”. Though in a speech the Planning Minister Nick Boles has indicated this could include science parks, industrial developments and minerals extraction. This will take power away from local people who want to protect their local environment.  
  • Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) that have a poor performance record in terms of time it takes them to reach decisions, and LPAs which are most often overruled at appeal, will be subject to special measures which would allow developers to bypass them and go straight to the Planning Inspectorate. Details of how these criteria will be judged have not however been made clear in the Bill so far, but it seems to me it will put increasing pressure on LPAs to rush decisions through, putting an increasing emphasis on quantity over quality.
  • The Bill gives Mineral Planning Authorities (MPAs) greater discretion as to when they review Minerals Planning Permissions. The 1995 Environment Act currently determines that all minerals permissions should be reviewed every 15 years to ensure that all the attached conditions remain relevant and up to date. As you can imagine, with improving technologies there is always scope to minimise many of the impacts of mineral working such as noise, dust and vibration, and even conditions written only 15 years ago can seem very outdated. It also ensures that the best possible restoration scheme is progressed. To lose this opportunity to enhance environmental protection and improve the quality of life for residents near quarries for the sake of saving minerals operator’s money seems very short sighted.
  • The Bill will also place a limit on the amount of information an LPA can request when an application is submitted, it must be judged to be reasonable. There is a real risk that ecological and arboricultural surveys may be the first to go if the LPA is under pressure to act quickly and there are no designated sites involved.

Facilitating new development…

  • New rules will make it easier for landowners to prevent town and village green applications by allowing them to block other peoples applications. It will also end people’s right to apply to register a village green when there is a trigger event such as a planning application. We know this designation has been abused in the past and we knew it was coming, but what about the new ‘designated green space’ that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) promised?
  • The G&I Bill will also amend the regulations that restrict where telecommunications equipment can be installed. This will make it easier for operators to install equipment in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

This is not supposed to be a definitive list; the G&I Bill covers many different things from employment law to investment in energy. This article just highlights some of the key planning points and illustrates what we believe to be an increased threat to natural environment as the dash for growth trumps other concerns. It seems to be a direct contradiction to the Localism Act. Instead of promoting local engagement and ‘people power’ it puts economic interests alone before the places that we all care about.

Victoria Bankes Price, Planning Adviser

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About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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8 Responses to The Growth and Infrastructure Bill – What does it mean for the natural environment?

  1. Victoria Bankes Price says:

    Thanks for your comments Barbara, we will keep complaining!

  2. Barbara Ward says:

    We think that we will be left with what ever the powers that be and the powerful lobbyists who will decide what happens to our wood lands and national parks, when we all protest and the Westminster village
    appears to listen and change the plans, all that happens is they think of way around the problems created and carry on with their projects. Maybe if enough people complain then they may take note, but feel sure that is only a temporary stop until a later date and things happen under the guise of need. Have become a cynical old campaigner after many years of fighting for just causes.
    B Ward

  3. Hi Julie, as alluded to above the Government are moving very quickly with this, only this morning they announced a call for evidence. The deadline is next Tuesday, giving us only a week to respond which I am afraid massivly restricts our ability to involve our supporters and other partners in developing the response. We will be putting a full response into this. The link to this consultation is set out below:
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2012-2013/0075/cbill_2012-20130075_en_1.htm
    We would encourage you to put in a response to this, its great to see you are interested in this. I will of course endeavour to keep this blog up to date too.

  4. Julie Taylor says:

    Whilst I have been generally aware of this new so-called “Growth and Infrastructure” Bill, for some reason I hadn’t considered its wide ranging impact. I am quite concerned about a lot of the issues you have raised in your post Victoria.

    Are the Woodland Trust organising anything to raise wider awareness or take action on this Bill? I will definitely follow it more closely now. I will also be looking at who is on the Bill Committee. Thank you for posting.

  5. Thanks for your comments – interesting to see you are feeling as cynical as me about this bill!

  6. Its a shame, but our political system has evolved to become a career path rather than a vocation, with the majority of our decision making politicians being of the same ilk and education. Its been stated before, but this means they have really become divorced from reality, within the hallowed halls of ‘ The Palace of Westminster’. The real consequence here is they are largely unreachable to all but those with power and money, such as big business, amongst which are many of the major developers. This G I Bill is as a consequence of this – not a real rationale of what is needed.

    I have had developers and councillors admit unofficially that it is easier to develop greenfields, since the tightening up of contaminated land legislation, and yet their is the push to produce more food and fuel from our own resources. Yet it is proposed to reduce the constraints on building on greenfields – is this logic or money talking!!!

  7. It means that government once more will dictate winners and losers. Leadership is in short supply now a days.

  8. Pingback: The Growth and Infrastructure Bill – What does it mean for the natural environment? | Conservation & Environment | Scoop.it

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