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Committee calls for fracking halt as MPs look to amend Infrastructure Bill

MPs will try to amend the government’s Infrastructure Bill today, claiming parts of it relating to fracking are “profoundly undemocratic”.

The Environmental Audit Committee said proposals in the bill to change trespassing laws to allow companies to dig for shale gas under people’s homes without permission should be removed.

The committee said the proposed changes “seriously undermine citizens’ rights and are not supported by the public”.

The bill, announced in the Queen’s speech last year, looks to legislate on policies across multiple government departments.

Among the bill’s headline reforms is the Highways Agency’s transformation into a government-owned, contractor-operated company [Go-Co], managed by the Department for Transport.

It also includes changes to planning law, such as simplifying the process for amending Development Consent Orders on nationally significant infrastructure projects.

The proposal to change trespassing laws is perhaps the most controversial part of the Infrastructure Bill and has been met with significant opposition.

A YouGov poll for Greenpeace showed that out of 1,898 people surveyed, 74 per cent felt energy companies should have to get permission from the landowner or resident first before drilling.

But speaking to Construction News after the government announced its Roads Investment Strategy, transport minister John Hayes said he was “determined to get this on the statute book before the election”.

EAC chair Joan Walley said the government was trying to “rush” through changes to the bill, which were “profoundly undemocratic”.

She said: “Ultimately fracking cannot be compatible with our long-term commitments to cut climate changing emissions unless full-scale carbon capture and storage technology is rolled out rapidly, which currently looks unlikely.

“There are also huge uncertainties around the impact that fracking could have on water supplies, air quality and public health.

“The government is trying to rush through changes to the trespass laws that would allow companies to frack under people’s homes without permission.

“This is profoundly undemocratic and parliament should protect the rights of citizens by throwing these changes out when they are debated later today.”

Her comments follow the launch of a report by the EAC calling for fracking to be put on hold while MPs debate the third reading of the Infrastructure Bill.

The report claims shale fracking in the UK could derail efforts to tackle climate change and pose “significant” localised environmental risks to public health.

Speeding up infrastructure

The government is using the Infrastructure Bill to try to speed up fracking, roads, zero-carbon housing and planning.

Measures include:

  • Allowing for certain types of planning conditions to be waived upon application if a local planning authority has not notified the developer of their decision within a prescribed time period.
  • Permitting land to be transferred directly from arms-length bodies to the Homes and Communities Agency.
  • Future purchasers of land owned by the HCA and the Greater London Authority will be able to develop and use land without being affected by easements and other rights and restrictions suspended by the agency.
  • The bill would allow an examining authority to be appointed immediately after an application has been accepted to rule on consent for nationally significant infrastructure projects. Panels would comprise two inspectors, speeding up the process and saving money.

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