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Infrastructure Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) (IB 23)

Overview

1. The Infrastructure Bill (‘the Bill’) covers a wide range of issues that affect the countryside. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) accepts the need to build new housing, energy and transport infrastructure but that we need to make smarter decisions about investments, in particular the type and location of what we build.

2. The Bill as it stands would weaken regulation and public engagement as part of a dash for infrastructure. It comes hot off the heels of other laws about infrastructure and we are concerned that with new provisions being announced almost every month, there is insufficient time to consider its implications fully. Major infrastructure lasts for generations and needs to be planned carefully, taking account of environmental considerations and the views of local communities.

Road Reform

3. Part 1 is the most substantial part of the Bill. Like the House of Commons Transport Committee, CPRE is not yet persuaded by the Government's arguments for turning the Highways Agency into an arms-length strategic highways company. In any event the Department for Transport accepts that many of the benefits, including much of the cost savings, could be obtained without legislation.

4. In particular we are concerned that entrenching spending on strategic roads will squeeze local transport funding. Not only would this squeeze investment on buses, walking and cycling, it will create a two tier roads network. Indeed while Part 5 contains provisions to promote sustainable energy and greater community control, as well as manage demand there is no such balance in Part 1, which is wholly focused on strategic roads. This appears to be because measures to promote sustainable travel and improve transport efficiency (e.g. better logistics and more lift sharing) would weaken the case further for the massive road-building programme, which the Government appears intent on pushing through.

5. Clause NC4 on walking and cycling therefore raises an important point and we would welcome commitment from the Government to entrench long term funding and ambition for active travel. The Government’s current response that it has invested a significant amount of funding, does not deal with the reality that active travel funding is due to decline from 2016, particularly in rural areas.

6. Route strategies form the building block of the Road Investment Strategy. While we believe they are a very good idea, in theory, they have failed to live up to expectations in practice. We therefore support clause NC5, which would put route strategies on a clear, statutory basis, while providing significant flexibility for the processes to evolve. Route strategies are such a critical part of the new system that there is a clear public interest for their being mentioned on the face of the Bill, in particular to align their geography with that of local government and indeed the patterns of movement of the traffic that uses the strategic road network. The Government has simply stated that it feels route strategies should be covered in statutory directions, without providing any justification.

Energy

7. The key provisions of the Bill relating to energy fall within Part 4 (‘Off-site carbon abatement measures’) and Part 5 (including ‘The community electricity right’, ‘Petroleum and geothermal energy in deep-level land’ and ‘Renewable heat incentives’).

8. CPRE believes that the minimum ‘carbon compliance standard’ to be achieved on the site of new homes, before off-site ‘allowable solutions’ can be used, should be raised in line with the proposed standard previously agreed by all relevant parties, including the housebuilding industry. This would ensure future occupants and the communities where developments are sited benefit as much as possible. It would help reduce householders’ energy bills, reduce carbon emissions, create jobs and reduce the impacts of new energy infrastructure on the countryside. CPRE therefore supports amendment NC6 on the ‘Carbon compliance standard for new homes’. We also believe that there should be no exemptions from allowable solutions - that is the carbon savings above the minimum standard. The Government is proposing an exemption for ‘small sites’, which would result in house buyer confusion and fragmentation of the supply chain.

9. CPRE supports the community electricity right provisions, as we would prefer to see part-ownership of commercial renewable projects by communities, rather than ‘goodwill payments’. Part-ownership can give greater community control of a project as well as ongoing financial benefits to communities. However, we believe that the provisions should be informed by the emerging consensus from stakeholders on the voluntary scheme - through the ‘Shared Ownership Taskforce’. We think that the current provisions set the minimum size of projects too high, and the minimum stake offered to communities too low.

10. We are concerned about the timing of the provisions on petroleum in deep-level land, which propose to remove the requirement for fracking companies to gain permission from landowners before drilling at depth when there are still major uncertainties about its impacts. We believe the Government should focus more on strengthening fracking regulation to take account of legitimate concerns, including greater safeguards for nationally and internationally protected areas. The provision to allow companies to deposit any substance underground (Clause 39) is unnecessarily wide-reaching, inconsistent with the Government’s claim that the UK has world-class fracking rules and is likely to exacerbate widespread public concern. This provision should be removed or, if not, significantly narrowed down.

11. Overall we believe fracking regulation needs to be strengthened to protect the environment and provide the necessary reassurance to the public. In particular, we support the amendment to Clause 38, page 45, line 22 on introducing a presumption against oil and gas developments within or under nationally and internationally protected areas, and the amendment to Clause 39, page 46, line 3 relating to measurement, monitoring and public disclosure of fugitive [methane] emissions. We also support amendment NC1 on cumulative impacts and NC2 on environmental protection.

12. CPRE welcomes the proposals, within the provisions on renewable heat incentives, to allow the owner of a renewable heat installation to assign their subsidy payments to a third party. This would mean that the upfront cost of such an installation could be paid for by third parties for households unable to afford them, and that renewable heat will become more attractive for investors. This should help reduce heating bills, as well as carbon emissions, in rural communities - where fuel poverty can be very high.

Further Information

· CPRE consultation response on Making the Highways Agency a Government Company

· CPRE Manifesto for the 2015 General Election

· CPRE briefing for the Second Reading of the Infrastructure Bill

December 2014

Prepared 6th January 2015