Growth and Infrastructure Bill

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill had its report stage and third reading in the House of Commons on Monday.  As predicted, all the government amendments were passed and none of the other amendments were.  The bill got its third reading by 273 votes to 231 - the 42 majority being somewhat short of the majority of 79 that the government enjoys overall.  The Hansard report of the debate can be found here, but I've read it so you don't have to.

Debate on the bill at report stage was divided into three and a half sessions.

The first session focused on Nick Herbert MP's new clause that planning policy functions should only be exercised if there is, or will be, sufficient infrastructure to support new development, which was supported by a number of MPs.

The debate then took on a Welsh flavour with arguments about whether Labour's line was that energy projects of below 100MW should be devolved, or a higher figure.  The Plaid Cymru MP whose area contains the Brechfa Forest West windfarm currently in the Planning Act regime complained that there was a 'huge democratic deficit' with it being decided in London - ironic, considering that giving decision-making to the Secretary of State was supposedly to restore the democratic deficit of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC).

The second session dwelt on the proposals to allow s106 agreements' affordable housing provisions to be revisited, and there was a brief discussion on town and village greens (the half session) before the guillotine came down.

The final session dealt with the employment clause about what are now 'employee shareholders'.  Analogies ranged from Dickens (Scrooge) to Dizzee Rascal (bonkers).

The debate moved on to the third reading and therefore back to the general principles of the bill.  Opinions differed.

Michael Fallon MP, business minister, said 'the Bill will provide for commencement on Royal Assent for clauses that support stalled sites being unblocked, broadband being rolled out, the removal of legislative blocks on the gas innovation network competition, and broadening the major infrastructure regime'.

Roberta Blackman-Woods MP, shadow planning minister, said 'the Bill will do little to promote growth or to encourage the delivery of infrastructure'.

Nick Raynsford, backbench Labour MP, said 'it is about obfuscation, smoke and mirrors, waffle and self-delusion'.

John Howell, backbench Conservative MP, said 'It is a perfectly formed Bill that we should vote for with absolute confidence'.

The bill has now 'passed' the Commons and was introduced into the Lords the next day.  The new version of the Bill incorporating all the amendments made in the Commons can be found here.  Second reading in the Lords is to be on 8 January.

Rookery South

Blog readers will be familiar with the saga of the Rookery South energy from waste project in Bedfordshire.  It was given consent by the IPC in October 2011, but because of triggers in the Planning Act (soon to be amended by the above bill), it was referred to Parliament for further consideration known as Special Parliamentary Procedure (SPP), where it has remained ever since.

Last week, however, having floated like a butterfly for six weeks of hearings, the committee of three MPs and three peers considering the application stung like a bee.  Of the five petitions made to it they dismissed three as there being 'no case to answer' - i.e. the project promoters don't need to put their case in rebuttal of the petitioners' case.

For the remaining two petitions, however, the committee found that there was a case to answer on one point common to them - the effect the project would have on the proposed Bedford to Milton Keynes Waterway.  The project promoter therefore addressed that point in its evidence yesterday.  The two sides have been left to negotiate on this issue and report back at the committee's next hearing on 16 January.  For the committee decision, scroll down to the end of this document.

We can therefore be confident that the project will clear Parliament, either with additional safeguards relating to the waterway or unchanged.  This is likely to happen later in January and could yet get Rookery South on the Planning Act podium in bronze medal position.  It could be pipped by the Kentish Flats wind farm, though, which is due to be decided by 1 March.