Infrastructure Bill

Written evidence submitted by the British Property Federation (IB 28)


1. The BPF represents companies owning, managing and investing in property. This includes a broad range of businesses comprising commercial property owners, the financial institutions and pension funds, corporate landlords and residential landlords, as well as all those professions that support the industry.

2. We welcome the opportunity to submit evidence to the Public Bill Committee on the Infrastructure Bill 2014-15. The Bill’s extensive remit covers many issues affecting the property industry and is generally welcomed by industry.

Infrastructure and economic growth

3. There is a clear need for a strategic, long-term, evidence-based and non-partisan approach to planning for the infrastructure of the UK. Infrastructure, economic growth and development are all inextricably linked: the funding of new infrastructure needed to enable broader economic growth, for instance, may depend on the projected future rate income accruing from new development. Because of this, the focus of the Infrastructure Bill must be to further the sustainable long-term economic growth across the whole country.

4. This could be achieved through an overarching body, as proposed in recent policy reviews, taking a longer-term view than that currently provided by the National Infrastructure Plan and pipeline. This body could provide a vital home for a process of collaborative understanding between Government and appropriate members of the industry, and ensure that this process is impartial and non-partisan. The Airports Commission is an excellent example of how this body could effectively function.

Infrastructure Bill Part 1: Strategic Highways Companies

5. We welcome the commitment to improving vital road infrastructure. Given the importance of a long-term strategic infrastructure plan, it is vital that the new strategic highways company or companies give due consideration to Road Investment Strategies and these themselves are evidence-based with sufficient oversight.

6. While improving the road network will provide benefits, it is crucial that other means of transport are not disincentivised. To this end we welcome the National Policy Statement on National Road and Rail Networks, published in December 2014. Upgrading the UK’s road and rail networks will not only allow the public to benefit from the speedy delivery of goods and parcels, but it will also help the industrial and logistics sector, which is a significant contributor to the UK’s economy and employer of local people, to thrive. We therefore would expect that further work carried out by strategic highways authorities takes this focus into consideration.

Infrastructure Bill Part 4: Planning, Land and Buildings

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects

7. We believe the Planning Act 2008 was a significant and helpful step forward in reducing the amount of time taken to respond to major planning applications, thanks to the introduction of the nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) regime.

8. We are pleased the 2013 review of the NSIP regime (which concluded that the system is operating well and that major change would be unnecessary and undesirable) is recognised in the draft Infrastructure Bill, which does not recommend drastic changes to the process. We welcome the relatively minor changes put forward in clauses 17-19 of the Bill.

Deemed discharge of planning conditions

9. In November 2014, the Government announced as part of its response to the Technical Consultation on Planning that it would proceed with plans to introduce a "deemed discharge" of planning conditions, with the condition being treated as approved where a decision has not been made on the application by the local authority within a set period.

10. We wholeheartedly support the concept of deemed discharge of conditions, not only to ensure that post-permission delays preventing implementation are not incurred by developers, but to release some of the development management pressure placed on struggling local authorities. However, we see no real reason (as is proposed) to exclude developments that are subject to conditions in areas of high flood risk, nor an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), providing that there are no unassessed environmental or flood risk effects. Given the large number of developments which are subject to an EIA (even with the increased thresholds announced in January 2015), this effectively neuters the effectiveness of deemed discharge for large developments, rendering it only useful for small to medium-sized schemes.

The Homes and Communities Agency and other agencies

11. Concerning property transfers and the role of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), we welcome the increased focus on housing delivery, with certain types of land being protected from development. We would also welcome further detail on the conditions under which property, rights and liabilities could be transferred to the HCA: for example the process by which land is classified as surplus; that the process is subject to transparent reporting of all aspects of the transaction to the Land Registry; and that the transfer is subject to viability and transparency.

12. We recognise the value of ensuring the HCA is more efficiently able to manage surplus land currently owned by different Government departments and arms-length bodies. However, we are concerned that the aims of the individual departments and arms-length bodies and those of the HCA have in the past been, and will continue to be, in conflict. Those within those departments and bodies are often much better-placed to make judgements on these disposals and gain best value for the taxpayer. For example, NHS Property Services has been constrained in its ability to make most efficient use of its portion of the NHS estate due to the emphasis on releasing land for homes.

13. We also welcome Government reassurances that it is investigating opportunities through which local authorities can themselves have responsibility for the release of public land. However, given the extensive public spending cuts, this increase in powers would undoubtedly need to be accompanied by a significant increase in funding in order to ensure local authorities benefitted from sufficient expertise and capability.

Offsite carbon abatement measures

14. Clause 32 of the Bill refers to the concept of allowable solutions, and outlines the four routes by which house builders can achieve Government targets for all new homes to be zero carbon from 2016 by using a range of off-site carbon abatement measures.

15. Given that the content of clause 32 has its basis in the extensive Government consultation Next Steps to Zero Carbon Homes – Allowable Solutions, which received 172 responses, we would be wary of further changes being introduced to this clause via proposed amendments. Amendments which appear to have the intention of preventing exemptions from allowable solutions requirements on small sites are also perhaps premature as the consultation on proposals for such exemptions closes on 7th January 2015.

16. We would be pleased to discuss or amplify any of the points raised in our response.

January 2015

Prepared 9th January 2015