Following the Queen’s Speech, Freshwater’s Brendan Atess summarises the key infrastructure and transport announcements in the Government’s legislative agenda as we approach the 2015 General Election.
11 Bills were presented to Parliament with three being published in draft form for pre-legislative scrutiny. The two competing interpretations of the Queen’s Speech were that it either reflected a “zombie parliament” lacking in new ideas, or that the relatively smaller number of bills – a common occurrence in the final year of parliaments – would produce focused work on key areas without the risk of a backlog in 2015. The truth, as usual, is probably somewhere in between.
Critically for those working in the infrastructure and transport industries, the new legislative agenda includes a substantial and fairly comprehensive Infrastructure Bill affecting housing, energy and Highways Agency funding. As expected, it was announced that the Highways Agency will be turned into a government-owned company.
Other bills included proposals for improving access to public procurement by smaller firms, a new tax-free childcare subsidy and plans to tackle abuses by employers involving paying workers below the NMW.
The government also reiterated its intention to introduce two new pension reform bills which had been pre-announced as part of the coalition’s “biggest shake-up of British pensions since 1921” earlier this year.
One of the more weightier bills included in the speech, the Infrastructure Bill will involve consultations between several government departments, including the Department for Transport, the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Communities and Local Government. So far it appears to be one of the most popular bills overall especially from industry leaders, however, controversies over planning reforms for fracking under private property and a watering down of zero-carbon housing pledges have angered environmentalists and local opposition groups.
The bill includes the following key sections:
The Highways Agency will be turned from a quango into a government-owned company, with a shake-up of its funding which is likely to involve the same kind of five-year-plan approach as is currently employed for Network Rail. This is welcome move for those in the road transport industry who have suffered from a lack of predictability with regards to long-term spending plans.
“Transforming the Highways Agency into a Government-owned company, with flexible five year budgets, would stop it from getting bogged down in stop-start cycles and enable it to act more strategically and deliver improved road networks.” – CBI
The process of applying for a development consent order (DCO) for building projects of national significance will be simplified and speeded up. This, it is hoped, will help with the freeing up of land for new housing projects and infrastructure projects.
Also, subject to the outcome of a consultation, developers will be able to run shale gas pipelines under people’s land without their permission. This has already resulted in protests from Greenpeace and an alliance of other environmental campaign groups and there is likely to be a groundswell of NIMBYism as the consultation is rolled out.
“The proposed legislation will bring the onshore oil and gas and geothermal industries into line with other activities, such as mining and utilities, and will have no noticeable effect on the lives of home and property owners.” – Ken Cronin, UK Onshore Operators Group CEO
“Not only does this bill defy public opinion, it denies people a voice. To allow fracking companies to drill under people’s homes and land without their permission is to ignore public interest in pursuit of the vested interests of a few.” - Caroline Lucas, Green Party
Energy firms will have to pay a levy to fund a beefed-up market regulator. This has angered some industry leaders as they accuse the government of using public anti-energy sentiment to plant almost the entire cost of the new enhanced regulatory system on the big six rather than sharing the cost between government and business. Another “super regulator” is to be set up and forced onto North Sea Oil balance sheets as the industy is expected to be given the full bill for the regulator.
“We must disagree with the government seeking to absolve itself from all financial involvement or responsibility for the new Regulator.” - Malcolm Webb, Oil & Gas UK CEO
Construction firms will be able to “offset” the carbon emissions of new homes after they have been built, to meet zero carbon standards due from 2016. This is good news for small housebuilding companies who have long been complaining of the damage done to their prospects for competing with larger firms as well as being able to play their part in relieving the housing shortage.
“It is good to see the Government recognising the cumulative burden of regulation that small house builders face by scrapping the rapid roll out of zero carbon homes requirements.” – James Hulme, Strategic Policy Advisor – HBA
“This has undoubtedly been hard-won by the Lib Dems, but unfortunately they are at risk of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by letting small developments - a large chunk of the housebuilding market - off the hook.” - Paul King, UK Green Building Council CEO
Freshwater’s Public Affairs division provides specialist political communications and intelligence for a client base across the transport, planning and infrastructure, and energy sectors. Whether you need campaign advice, crisis communications support, stakeholder engagement guidance or are interested in registering for our daily and weekly parliamentary and media monitoring reports, feel free to contact us at 0207 067 1595.