The Queen's Speech announced the introduction of an Infrastructure Bill which, the Government says, will "bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning law to improve economic competitiveness".
The Bill makes a number of potentially far-reaching changes to existing planning law. In particular it will:
- "simplify the process for making changes to Development Consent Orders (DCOs) by speeding up non-material changes to a DCO, and allowing simplified processes for material changes". There are also proposals to speed up the appointment of inspectors and for two inspectors to be appointed rather than the current options of one or a larger panel;
- allow certain types of planning conditions to be discharged by default if a local planning authority has not notified the developer of their decision within a prescribed time period;
- controversially put fracking on a par with conventional mining by changing the definition of land so that those drilling for shale oil and gas will be able to extend their operation laterally under other people’s property without the owner's permission;
- introduce secondary legislation to "allow for a locally supported garden city to be built in Ebbsfleet, backed by an urban development corporation";
- amend secondary legislation to "further reform change of use rules to make it easier for empty and redundant buildings to be converted into productive use, supporting brownfield regeneration and increase the supply of new homes".
As always the devil will be in the detail but particularly the provisions aimed at speeding up what can frequently be unwieldy planning processes are certainly to be welcomed.