Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by National Grid Plc (HPB 110)

Summary

§ National Grid welcomes the opportunity to make this submission to the Committee regarding the Housing and Planning Bill. We wish to focus our comments on Parts 6 (Planning in England) and 7 (Compulsory Purchase Etc.) of the Bill.

§ We support the objective of the Bill to promote the re-use of suitable brownfield land, particularly through a register of brownfield sites and the proposed ‘permission in principle’.

§ National Grid also supports the proposal to allow nationally significant infrastructure projects to involve an element of housing.

§ We support the objective of the Bill to improve the compulsory purchase regime in England and Wales, so it is clearer, fairer and faster. We consider that many of the provisions in the Bill will help to achieve this objective.

§ At the same time, National Grid is concerned that some of the compulsory purchase measures in the Bill as currently drafted would not deliver the intended benefits, and we set out recommendations in our submission on how this could be addressed.

Introduction

1. National Grid owns and manages the grids to which many different energy sources are connected. In Great Britain, we operate the systems that deliver gas and electricity across the entire country. We own the high voltage electricity transmission system in England and Wales and the gas transmission system throughout Great Britain. Through our low pressure gas distribution business, we distribute gas in the heart of England to approximately eleven million offices, schools and homes – putting us in a vital position at the centre of the energy system.

2. We are at the core of one of the greatest challenges facing our society; supporting the creation of new sustainable energy solutions for the future and developing an energy system that can underpin our economic prosperity in the 21st century. We are committed to taking a leading position, alongside governments and regulators, in shaping the future energy landscape. We fully embrace the opportunity to support changes in the energy industry that will be needed to achieve the UK’s climate change targets.

3. We also own a varied portfolio of around 350 former gas works, many of which were once at the heart of the industrial revolution but have become redundant as the gas industry has changed. Through the transformation of this redundant land we will be working towards delivering in excess of 20,000 new homes and community facilities over the next five years.

4. National Grid welcomes the opportunity to make this submission to the Committee. We wish to focus our comments on Parts 6 and 7 of the Bill.

Part 6 – Planning in England

5. National Grid supports the objective of the Bill to promote the re-use of suitable brownfield land. We welcome the intention that local planning authorities will maintain a register of Brownfield sites which are suitable for housing (clause 103). We note and are supportive that sites on such brownfield land registers may benefit from a new ‘permission in principle’ (clause 102), which will equal planning permission after ‘technical details consent’ is obtained.

6. We would welcome further clarity on the nature of information to be included for any site to be registered (e.g. how do landowners demonstrate that a site is deliverable and therefore benefit from a permission in principle; what level of detail is required to achieve the technical details consent?). Further information is welcomed on the process and timescales for consultation for landowners whose land may be included in the registers and on how such registers will be maintained and updated.

7. National Grid also supports the provisions in clause 107 of the Bill which allows nationally significant infrastructure projects under the Planning Act 2008 to involve an element of housing.

Part 7 – Compulsory Purchase Etc.

8. National Grid supports the objective of the Bill to improve the compulsory purchase regime in England and Wales, so it is clearer, fairer and faster. We consider that many of the provisions in the Bill will help to achieve this objective. At the same time, we are concerned that some of the measures in the Bill as currently drafted would not deliver the intended benefits, and we set out recommendations below on how this could be addressed.

Clause 111 (Right to enter and survey land)

9. National Grid supports the introduction of a new general power of entry for survey purposes in connection with a proposal to compulsorily acquire land which will be available to all acquiring authorities. Such access may be necessary, for example, to find out important information about ground and environmental conditions or the presence of specific species or archaeological remains which may affect the design and layout of a proposed development. We agree that the power should be available in relation to the land which is the subject of the proposal or to other land (e.g. adjacent land).

Clause 112 (Warrant authorising use of force to enter and survey land)

10. National Grid supports the provisions in this clause which include appropriate restrictions and safeguards to the power to authorise the use of force to enter and survey land.

Clause 113 (Notice of survey and copy of warrant)

11. National Grid supports the provisions in this clause. The requirement to give at least 14 days’ notice of entry seems appropriate. The minimum period should not exceed 14 days, as timely entry may be required to meet critical programme milestones.

Clause 114 (Enhanced authorisation procedures etc. for certain surveys)

12. National Grid supports the provisions in this clause. It provides necessary protection where a survey is to be carried out on land held by a statutory undertaker and the undertaker objects because it would seriously interfere with the carrying on of its undertaking.

Clauses 115-117

13. National Grid supports these provisions in the Bill.

Clause 118 (Timetable for confirmation of compulsory purchase order)

14. National Grid supports the introduction of statutory targets and timescales for the confirmation of orders. We agree that, at present, once a compulsory purchase order has been submitted for decision, the process can be lengthy and the timescales for a decision unclear. For example, in our experience there are sometimes significant delays from an order being submitted for confirmation and the period for objections closing to an inquiry start date being announced. Additional clarity and certainty on timescales would assist all parties involved. We support the targets and timescales proposed by Ministers in the ‘Technical Consultation’ document earlier this year [1] . National Grid also supports the requirement that the Secretary of State/Welsh Ministers must publish an annual report to Parliament/the Welsh Assembly setting out the extent to which confirming authorities have complied with any applicable timetable.

Recommendation: We would encourage the Committee to seek confirmation from Ministers during passage of the Bill that the statutory targets and timescales for the confirmation of compulsory purchase orders will be implemented in line with the proposals in the Technical Consultation document.

Clause 119 (Confirmation by inspector)

15. National Grid agrees in principle that delegated decision by an inspector would be advantageous in appropriate circumstances. We consider that it would only be appropriate to delegate decisions that do not raise issues of more than local importance. Additionally, decisions which affect operational land of statutory undertakers should remain with the Secretary of State and should not be delegated to inspectors, where the affected statutory undertakers have objected to the order.

Recommendation: Clause 119 should be amended to provide that it would only be appropriate to delegate decisions that do not raise issues of more than local importance. Additionally, decisions which affect operational land of statutory undertakers should not be delegated to inspectors, where the affected statutory undertakers have objected to the order.

16. We agree in principle that there should be a right of recovery by the Secretary of State/Welsh Ministers, for example, if the hearing/inquiry raises unexpected issues. Clause 119(6) provides that the confirming authority may at any time (a) revoke its appointment of an inspector, and (b) appoint another inspector.

Recommendation: For clarity and to avoid uncertainty, clause 119(6) of the Bill should be amended to state explicitly that the confirming authority may revoke its appointment of an inspector and take the decision on whether to confirm or refuse to confirm a compulsory purchase order itself.

Clause 120 (Time limits for notice to treat or general vesting declaration)

17. The provisions in this clause may have general application. In that context they are generally supported, but further clarification about the detailed effects would be helpful. There may be times where the statutory duties of economy and efficiency mean that a regulated body should seek a longer time to exercise compulsory powers.

Recommendation: We would welcome confirmation that the proposal would still allow regulated bodies to ask the Secretary of State for a longer period. Regulated bodies should still be able to highlight individual cases where the consumer may benefit from a longer period, and the final decision about whether to extend or not should then rest with the Secretary of State. In addition, transitional provisions should protect the terms of existing Development Consent Orders granted under the Planning Act 2008 which are time limited in any event.

Clause 121 (Amendments to notice of general vesting declaration procedure)

18. A number of clauses concern revisions to general vesting procedures. National Grid considers that there is an opportunity to work to some basic principles which we set out in response to this clause, but which apply also to later clauses (namely clauses 122, 123 and 128).

19. In short, it is entirely appropriate that a person who is the subject of a proposed compulsory acquisition should be able to oppose that acquisition of those powers by a third party. But where a compulsory purchase order has been confirmed, the procedures that follow should not be drawn out unnecessarily. There are two general scenarios:-

i. The owner or occupier has a view about when they wish to leave and it is possible to give them certainty about the timing of land acquisition. The preferred method would be to reach a voluntary agreement about the exact timing of the acquisition with them. Clause 125 allows for this; the question is whether the system can be designed to encourage this.

ii. If a voluntary agreement is not possible, then it may be preferable for the process to operate as quickly and as efficiently as possible. A slower procedure does not seem to assist the person whose rights are being taken away. They do not have the additional opportunity to discuss what they want to happen. If the intention is to give the person the longest possible period to prepare to leave the property, this may be best achieved by requiring the acquisition to take place no sooner than a certain period of time after the first notice. Lengthening the process with no obvious benefit or opportunity to the person most affected seems to be less desirable. It also makes the process less efficient for customers and consumers when these powers are being exercised on behalf of regulated industries.

Clause 122 (Earliest vesting date under general vesting declaration)

20. Our general observations above regarding revisions to general vesting procedures apply. If the objective of the clause is to provide greater certainty to affected owners or occupiers about the timing of land acquisition, the preferred method would be to reach a voluntary agreement. If a voluntary agreement is not possible, then it may be preferable for the process to operate as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

21. National Grid is concerned about extending the minimum period after which land may vest in an acquiring authority after the service of notice to a minimum of 3 months, from the current minimum of 28 days. The ability to take possession of land in a timely manner can be critical to the delivery and reinforcement of essential utility infrastructure. National Grid is of the view that the current time period of 28 days strikes the right balance between facilitating taking possession in a timely fashion, whilst giving sufficient time of notice.

Recommendation: The minimum period after which land may vest in an acquiring authority after the service of notice should not be extended to a minimum of 3 months, but the current minimum of 28 days should be retained.

Clause 123 (Extended notice period for taking possession following notice to treat)

22. Our general observations made above in relation to clause 121 apply.

23. National Grid is concerned about extending the notice period for taking possession following notice to treat/notice of entry to a minimum of 3 months, from the current minimum of 14 days. The ability to take possession of land in a timely manner can be critical to the delivery and reinforcement of essential utility infrastructure.

Recommendation: The notice period for taking possession following notice to treat/notice of entry should not be extended to a minimum of 3 months, but the current minimum of 14 days should be retained. Subsection (2) of this clause should be amended accordingly.

24. The changes proposed in subsection (3) of this clause represent a logical fine tuning of the system which are supported.

Clause 124 (Counter-notice requiring possession to be taken on specified date)

25. National Grid agrees that there should be a mechanism to enable a claimant to require the acquiring authority to take possession after the specified date of entry. We agree that the minimum period should be no less than 28 days after the date the notice is served and that the date in the notice must not be before the end of the period specified in a notice of entry or any extended period that the person has agreed with the acquiring authority.

Clauses 125-127

26. National Grid supports these provisions in the Bill.

Clause 128 (Extended notice period for taking possession following vesting declaration)

27. Our general observations made above in relation to clause 121 apply.

28. National Grid is concerned about extending the minimum period for taking possession following a vesting declaration to a minimum of 3 months, from the current minimum of 14 days. The ability to take possession of land in a timely manner can be critical to the delivery and reinforcement of essential utility infrastructure. National Grid is of the view that the current time period of 14 days strikes is more appropriate.

Recommendation: The notice period for taking possession following a vesting declaration should not be extended to a minimum of 3 months, but the current minimum of 14 days should be retained.

Clauses 129 (Making a claim for compensation)

29. National Grid agrees that the Secretary of State should have the power to make regulations to impose further requirements about the notice claimants must give the acquiring authority detailing the compensation sought by them. This will encourage the correct information to be supplied to acquiring authorities to allow claims to be dealt with.

Clause 130 (Making a request for advance payment of compensation)

30. National Grid supports these provisions in the Bill.

Clause 131 (Power to make and timing of advance payment)

31. National Grid is concerned about these proposals in the Bill. This proposal may act as a disincentive to reach agreement before any compulsory purchase hearing as it removes one of the advantages of such early agreements. As such, this proposal weakens the ability to deliver one of the objectives of government guidance on early agreement.

32. Claims for advance payment should be allowed to be lodged from the date the order is confirmed, but the advanced payment itself should not have to be made until entry is taken. The fundamental concept is that compensation is paid for land acquired. A change requiring payment of compensation ahead of possession being taken represents a significant departure – the valuation date is tied to the date of entry, and so divorcing the payment from the valuation date is conceptually confusing. Moving the date forward results in the acquiring authority being forced to pay money (usually from the public purse) without having the certainty that possession of the land will be surrendered, and without having actually decided to progress with the scheme.

33. Where individuals or small businesses are affected by a Compulsory Purchase Order, there is already the blight notice procedure to allow them to request purchase of their property. Very often costs are agreed so that on completion, the whole of the compensation payable is available to the landowner at the date that they vacate the property. Many acquiring authorities also offer discretionary hardship schemes in addition to statutory obligations as a matter of good practice to cover the costs of removals etc.

Recommendation: The Bill should be amended to provide that claims for advance payment are allowed to be lodged from the date the order is confirmed, but the advanced payment itself should not have to be made until entry is taken.

Clause 132 (Interest on advance payments of compensation)

34. National Grid supports these provisions in the Bill.

Clause 133 (Repayment of advance payment where no compulsory purchase)

35. National Grid considers that further clarification of the provisions in this clause is required. If this applies to payments made under clause 131 then it is supported. If it applies to payments made under other private agreements then this is not supported, because it would remove one of the other primary advantages of private agreements, and so weaken the ability to negotiate them.

Recommendation: Further clarification regarding the effect of these provisions is required.

Clauses 134-135

36. National Grid supports these provisions in the Bill.

Clause 136 (Extension of compulsory purchase time limit during challenge)

37. National Grid is concerned about certain aspects of this clause. Where the extension is against the person taking the Judicial Review, this makes sense. However, other landowners are often affected. These people, if they took no part in the Judicial Review, could suffer a detriment as a result. At this point, the people who are losing their property should be given the benefit of any procedure which removes uncertainty. Clause 136 in its current form increases uncertainty and is not supported as drafted.

Recommendation: Clause 136 should be amended so that the time extension does not apply to the acquisition of rights from residential occupiers or small businesses.

Clause 137: Power to override easements and other rights

38. National Grid supports this clause which extends the ability to override covenants and easements, subject to existing protections for statutory undertakers’ apparatus in the affected land remaining unchanged (as per clause 137(6)). Statutory undertakers frequently benefit from easements, wayleaves and restrictive covenants and these should remain subject to the current protections.

December 2015


[1] Department for Communities and Local Government: Technical consultation on improvements to compulsory purchase processes, March 2015.

Prepared 3rd December 2015