At a Glance

At the state opening of Parliament this morning, the Queen announced the following measures that will be taken in the run up to the general election next May.  In summary, 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; 
  • implement major reforms to the electricity market;
  • legislate for the Highways Agency to become a government-owned company;
  • create an Allowable Solutions Scheme to enable new homes to be built to a zero carbon standard.  Building regulations will be used to set minimum standard with the remainder of the target to be met through off-site carbon abatement measures). Small sites (the definition of which will be the subject of consultation) will be exempt;
  • reform to the planning regime to enable new locally led Garden Cities
  • promote the sale of high value Government land;
  • continue to promote the 'Help to Buy' and 'Right to buy' schemes to support home ownership; and 
  • enable more schools to become academies and more free schools to open.

In a bit more detail

Draft Infrastructure Bill

An Infrastructure Bill containing a series of planning reforms intended to "bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning law to improve economic competitiveness" was announced in the Queen's Speech.  The briefing note published following the speech (endnote 1) confirms that the bill will contain measures to:

  • bring forward reforms to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) planning regime;
  • 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; and
  • allow the examining authority to be appointed immediately after an application has been accepted and for the panel to comprise two inspectors;

The Bill will also contain provisions to implement further planning system reforms to: 

  • support the development of gas and oil from shale and geothermal energy by clarifying and streamlining the underground access regime. DECC published details of plans to change trespasss laws to allow fracking firms to drill under homes without the owner's permission for consultation last month. See our briefing on the consultation here.
  • set up a new super agency for the North Sea, with a duty to support the Government and industry in maximising economic recovery;
  • allow certain types of planning conditions to be discharged upon application if a LPA has not notified the developer of their decision within a prescribed time period;
  • permit public sector land assets to be transferred directly to the HCA;
  • ensure that future purchasers of land owned by the HCA and the GLA will be able to develop and use land without being affected by easements and other rights and restrictions suspended by the HCA;
  • transfer statutory responsibility for the local land charges register and delivery of local land charges searches to the Land Registry; and
  • allow for Species Control Orders to control the invasive, non-native species that pose serious threats to biodiversity, the water environment and infrastructure.

Geographic extent of the proposals

The accompanying note confirms that the provisions relating to roads and local toll crossings, NSIPs, planning consents for local projects and public sector land assets would apply only to England.  The provisions relating to the local land charge aspects of the Land Registry and invasive non-native species would apply to England and Wales.  The provisions relating to transparency of energy information and communities’ right to buy into renewable projects would apply to England, Wales and Scotland.  Where the Bill deals with devolved matters, the Devolved Administrations will be engaged.

The Speech made no mention of legislating for the power to give communities the right to buy into renewable projects in their area.  Further details can be expected as the accompanying note confirms that the details of the proposed power have not yet been announced having been developed by Government separately.   

It is not clear whether publication of the draft Infrastructure Bill will precede the conclusion of the current consultation on underground access rights in August.

Consultation on further changes of use

The Government will also consult later this summer on further reform to the Permitted Development Regime 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. 

That consultation will also contain proposals for a new planning use class for betting shops.  These proposals would mean that in future where it is proposed to convert a bank, building society or estate agents into a betting shop it would require a planning application.  The Government is also expected to remove the ability for other premises such as restaurants and pubs to change use without being obliged to seek planning permission. 

Draft Governance of National Parks (England) and the Broads Bill (England only) 

This would allow direct elections to be held for key positions in England's 10 National Park Authorities and the Broads Authority, which manages the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.  It would enable parish councils to choose their representatives on the authorities from a wider group of candidates.

Bills carried over from the last session

In addition a number of bills making changes in areas which will be relevant to planning and highways are being carried over from the 2013-4 parliamentary session. They are:

  • Criminal Justice and Courts – judicial review reforms
  • Deregulation – changes to highways
  • High Speed Rail (London to West Midlands)
  • Wales – introduce a Welsh tax on transactions involving land in Wales and introduce a Welsh tax on disposals to landfill.