At the state opening of Parliament the Queen announced that her Government will seek to "bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning laws to improve economic competiveness", open up access to shale and geothermal sites; and maximise North Sea resources.
The draft Infrastructure Bill
An Infrastructure Bill containing a series of planning measures was announced in the Queen's Speech on Wednesday 4 June 2014. Our briefing note published following the speech (endnote 1) confirms that the bill will contain a number of measures to bring forward reforms to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) planning regime.
DECC published details of plans to change underground trespass laws to allow shale gas developments under homes without the owner's permission for consultation last month. See our briefing on the consultation here. This consultation will end in August 2014.
The Queen referred to the change in trespass law by stating, "The [infrastructure] bill will enhance the UK's energy independence and security by opening up access to shale and geothermal sites."
The official briefing notes accompanying the speech state, "Subject to consultation, this bill would support the development of gas and oil from shale and geothermal energy by clarifying and streamlining the underground access regime. The government is currently running a full consultation on this policy and the legislation is entirely dependent on the outcome of that consultation."
The Infrastructure Bill published on 6 June (endnote 2), and ahead of the end of the consultation in August does not contain the provisions to amend the trespass laws. It is possible that these may be included as Government amendments at a later stage in the Bill's progress through Parliament.
The Queen's Speech also announced that the Government would set up a new super agency for the North Sea, with a duty to support the Government and industry in maximising economic recovery from the UK Continental Shelf.
The Queen's Speech included a number of further announcements for legislative changes to the planning and infrastructure systems and you can read our briefing on these here.
The Government proposals for allowing underground access are highly controversial and continue to attract significant media coverage. The debate is likely to continue as the detail of the proposals will not be known until the conclusion of the current consultation.
The opposition considers that allowing oil companies to drill under people's homes and land without their permission is to ignore public interest in pursuit of vested interests. For the industry, providing access rights would remove a significant barrier to exploitation.
Whereas right to access coal was nationalised many years ago, petroleum is vested in the Crown and the rights to access it must be negotiated or compulsorily acquired if trespass is to be avoided. Acquiring compulsory rights under the current procedure is a lengthy and cumbersome procedure.