A new developers' charter

The Infrastructure Bill would favour big oil companies, especially those that frack, and house building companies, as well as giving new freedoms for road construction. It could also see public forests sold off 

The proposed Infrastructure Bill has been criticised as a (new) ‘developers’ charter’ and ‘a legal duty to maximise greenhouse gases’. With the bill currently in the committee stage in the Lords, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb reflects on the havoc it could wreak

The government’s Infrastructure Bill may appear innocuous at first glance, but delve deeper and details emerge that show how harmful and regressive it could be. Its general aim of shaking up the way we fund, plan, manage and maintain our national infrastructure may sound rather ambitious for one single bill. However, in reality it covers even more than that and is so wide sweeping that it’s hard to list all its negative implications. In June at its first reading in the Queens Speech debate, I addressed the Lords to speak about some of these. 

The Infrastructure Bill, I highlighted, gives new freedoms to the Highways Agency for road construction and introduces planning changes to fast-track developments. It seems to offer assistance to big oil companies and house builders, rather than to hard-pressed householders. It builds on the tax breaks that fossil fuel companies have already been given in the hope that they will find gas and sell it cheaply to bring down bills. 

It introduces a legal requirement for the government to boost income by maximising the recovery of petroleum from the UK’s dwindling resources. 

The environmental impacts of these things will be clear to you all. To me, this bill shows strong indications that the government has given up all hope of meeting carbon reduction targets. This is not only dangerous and irresponsible in terms of safeguarding our future, but breaks our obligations under international law. 

In addition to the environmental impact of this bill through the fast tracking of new road developments and facilitation of the growth of fracking in the UK, this bill also poses a huge threat to the rights of UK homeowners. 

In order to further facilitate fracking in the UK, the bill would exempt fracking companies from trespassing laws to allow them to run shale gas pipelines under private land without seeking the consent of homeowners. This is a gross invasion of private property and passes yet more power into the hands of vested interests. It’s hardly surprising that three quarters of the population oppose changes to the trespass law. 

Finally, this bill would potentially re-open the can of worms that was the sale of public forests. It proposes that the Secretary of State can hand over control of public land to the Homes & Communities Agency. The Homes & Communities Agency then has the right to hand it over to developers. In this case, the local authority planning processes can be bypassed and the Secretary of State will be able to give permission to developers after consultation with a panel consisting of just two people. 

In response, Caroline Lucas has proposed a Green rewrite of the bill, to focus on five key areas:

  • making energy efficiency the number one UK infrastructure priority;
  • investing in a transition to zero-carbon renewables; 
  • investing in public transport systems and local road maintenance;
  • strengthening the UK’s resilience to flooding and climate impact;
  • major investment in a zero-carbon council and social housing programme.

I’m proud to be able to take a place in the House of Lords, alongside Caroline in the Commons, to try to point out the absolute madness of this government. I often find myself as the go-to opposition figure in the Lords, and am sometimes the only person to speak out on some issues, for example, fracking. 

For more on Jenny Jones’s work in the House of Lords, visit: jennyjones.greenparty.org.uk 

To arrange a free a tour of Westminster, please get in touch at jonesjb@parliament.uk