The government will introduce a new Infrastructure Bill to “bolster investment” and reform planning law in the UK, the Queen has announced.
It aims to tie up existing legislation in this area, including the Planning Act 2008, the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 and The Land Registration Act 2002.
Several government departments will be involved in the bill, including the Department for Transport, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Communities and Local Government.
The DfT will be leading the overall management of the bill across Whitehall, Construction News has learned.
The bill will include a major roads reform, turning the Highways Agency into a government-owned company, and will focus on National Significant Infrastructure Projects – simplifying the process for making changes to Development Consent Orders.
Institution of Civil Engineers director general Nick Baveystock said the agency reform was a welcome move away from a “stop/start pattern of investment that has plagued the development and operation” of the UK’s roads network.
Subject to consultation, the bill will also support the development of gas and oil from shale, “streamlining” the underground access regime to the oil and gas.
DLA Piper partner Glenn Sharpe said this demonstrated the government’s commitment to the energy source.
Mr Sharpe said the announcements around planning were further evidence the government was serious about planning reform.
Under the legislation, small housebuilders will be exempt from meeting zero-carbon standards to reduce the barriers for SME builders operating in the sector, as reported by Construction News this week.
But UK Green Building Council chief executive Paul King criticised the move and said the government was “letting small developments…off the hook.”
The Zero Carbon Homes standard will be set at Level 5 of the Code for Sustainable Homes, but the legislation will allow developers to build to Level 4 if they offset through Allowable Solutions to achieve Code 5.
Allowable Solutions enable housebuilders to meet zero-carbon targets through cost-effective carbon-reduction measures.
Mr King said: “The policy of allowing developers to pay into a fund to offset emissions they cannot reduce is a sound idea in principle.”
“The government has talked a good game on infrastructure but the pace of delivery has been sluggish”
CBI deputy director-general Katja Hall
However, he warned “a weak scheme” that generated little investment “would be a deeply disappointing outcome”.
Under the legisation, land could be transferred directly from “arms-length bodies” to the Homes and Communities Agency, with the aim of reducing “bureaucracy and managing land more effectively”.
FMB chief executive Brian Berry said: “I’m pleased the coalition will continue in its ambition to remove the barriers to SMEs that are trying and failing to win public sector contracts.
“The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill will help improve the current situation where 40 per cent of construction SMEs are failing to win 90 per cent of the contracts they bid for.
“A vital part of engaging construction SMEs in the public procurement process will be strengthening the existing Prompt Payment Code and forcing larger businesses to publish their payment terms to increase transparency on the treatment of SMEs.”
CBI deputy director-general Katja Hall said: “The UK urgently needs to boost housing supply, so we’re really pleased that the government will kick-start a programme to sell off high-value public land for new homes.
“The government has talked a good game on infrastructure but the pace of delivery has been sluggish.
“Improving the pre-application phase of the planning process and moving towards a one-stop-shop for planning consents should help to streamline the system and get much-needed projects over the start line and onto the home straight.
“But more than anything else, we need to see bold political will to achieve this.”
Increasing housing supply
Plans to encourage the creation of locally led garden cities and support small housebuilding firms through planning reform were reiterated.
This included development finance support for SMEs through the £525m Builders’ Finance Fund, which closes on 25 June, and scaled back section 106 levies on small-scale developments.
House Builders Association strategic policy adviser James Hulme said the government had realised the need for garden cites and new towns.
But he stressed that government and industry must now work together “to make the case for long-term investment in the housebuilding and development sector, ensuring the right infrastructure is in place to support new communities”.