With amendments to the Infrastructure Bill currently being given consideration we highlight the most recent developments and our position on its many proposals. These include: powers to allow greater transfer of public land to the Homes and Communities Agency; and new powers to allow fracking under people’s land without consent.
Road building and planning
We believe that new infrastructure projects must be designed with walking in mind, enabling more people to choose to walk for short journeys and enjoy the many benefits that walking can bring.
New roads should have proper provision for non-motorised users of the highway network, including safe and convenient crossings. The Government needs to increase support for accessible, co-ordinated and affordable public transport for countryside users, as well as reduce the dangers of walking on country roads.
Changes to the planning system must not undermine important protections or the ability of local planning authorities to ensure planning conditions are met and developments should be as walking-friendly as possible.
Greater government support is needed for green infrastructure projects to unlock new investment and support for sustainable economic development.
A new Strategic Highways Company to replace to the Highways Agency
This new government owned company would be responsible for a new Road Investment Strategy. We have been reminding Ministers and Peers that a highway is not just about roads and cars it’s also public rights of way cycling and walking.
Result: A new government amendment has been added to the Bill to make it clear that users of highways also include cyclists and pedestrians.
New powers for the transfer of public land to The Homes and Communities Agency
These powers are being put forward so that surplus public land can be used for development such as new homes, but we have concerns that the provisions could be used for the transfer of land designated as open access land or held in trust for the benefit of the public (by such bodies such as the Forestry Commission or National Parks).
Result: Ministers have promised to amend the Bill to exempt the public forest estate and that these powers will not be used to transfer land from National Parks.
Greater powers to allow fracking
The Bill has proposal to change trespass laws to allow energy firms to drill for shale oil and gas and geothermal energy without the landowner’s consent. Although this won’t affect public rights of way and access above ground, we did have concerns about the precedent this could set for similar above ground activities like quarrying.
Result: We have been told that there is no question of changing the existing regime governing access to surface land and that these powers will only apply to land below 300 metres.
The Bill will allow communities to buy a stake in local renewable electricity schemes via ‘community energy right’.
Result: As a member of the Community Energy Coalition we support these moves but feel the community stake needs to be raised from 5% to at least 20% to allow a more meaningful level of shared ownership.