On 12 February 2015, the Infrastructure Act 2015 received Royal Assent. The following may be of particular interest:
- The creation of Strategic Highways Companies (power to make regulations came into force on 12 February 2015, the other provisions to be on a date to be determined)
- The provision for a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (to come into force on a date to be determined)
- Changes to the process of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects applications and Development Consent Orders (partly on 12 February 2015 and partly on a date to be determined)
- Deemed discharges of planning conditions (came into force on 12 February 2015)
- Mayoral Development Orders (Power to make regulations and Mayoral Development Orders came into force on 12 February 2015, all other powers on a date to be determined)
- The centralisation of Local Land Charges (comes into force on 12 April 2015)
- Fracking safeguards (to come into force on a date to be determined)
The creation of Strategic Highways Companies (SHC's)
What are SHCs?
- Government appointed companies (limited by shares and wholly owned by the Government) intended to be highways authorities for all or parts of England.
- SHCs may hold property, rights and liabilities transferred to them by the Government and receive Government loans, grants or guarantees.
What will they do?
- SHCs are intended to be (as the name suggests) strategic, with a legislative focus on the development of and work towards various strategies, whilst having regard to both the environment and the safety of highway users.
Strategies for what?
- Each SHC must have a Road Investment Strategy in place, specifying their objectives, financial resources and targets. If a Road Investment Strategy is not in place, the Government must lay an explanatory report before Parliament (or set a Strategy as soon as possible).
- The Government may also direct a SHC to prepare a Route Strategy containing its proposals for the management and development of specified highways for a specified period.
What if the strategies are not met?
- The Passengers’ Council will be a watchdog, with a positive duty to carry out activities to protect and promote the interests of users of highways covered by SHCs and may report back to the Government.
- The Office of Rail Regulation is tasked with monitoring SHCs and reporting back to the Government, with a view to promoting the performance and efficiency of the SHC.
- Where the Office of Rail Regulation considers that a SHC has not complied with its strategies or a direction/guidance from the Government, it may serve on the SHC a notice requiring remedial steps and/or impose a fine.
The provision for a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy
- The Government may set a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy or vary one at any time.
Changes to the process of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects applications and Development Consent Orders
Appointment of an examining authority
- An examining authority must be appointed as soon as the application for a Development Consent Order has been submitted and accepted.
- To come into force on a date to be determined.
Panels handling a NSIP application
- Each application is handled by either a single appointed person or a Panel – the latter may now be made up of between 2 and 5 members, rather than 3 and 5.
- To come into force on a date to be determined.
Consultation requirements in making a change to a DCO
- The applicant must now also comply with the publicity and consultation requirements of the Secretary of State in making a change to a development consent order.
Deemed discharge of planning conditions (England only)
- The Secretary of State may introduce a deemed discharge of planning conditions which require the consent, agreement or approval of the Local Planning Authority where no decision has been given by the Local Planning Authority and where the applicant has complied with any further required steps to be provided in secondary legislation.
- The deemed discharge is a deemed consent, agreement or approval.
- Excluded conditions and required steps will follow in secondary legislation.
Mayoral Development Orders
- These are grants of planning permission (unconditional or with limitations) for the development of sites in Greater London by the Mayor of London.
- Mayoral Development Orders can be made only on the application of the Local Planning Authority (or all the Local Planning Authorities relating to the site).
- The Secretary of State retains the power to override or revoke a Mayoral Development Order.
The centralisation of Local Land Charges
- Responsibility for local land charges will transfer from Local Authorities to the Land Registry which will hold a single local land charges register and be responsible for providing official search results and personal search facilities.
- This will be a phased transition, where responsibility will pass over from each area on expiry of a notice published by the Land Registry.
- The Land Registry may also provide consultancy and advisory services.
- A hydraulic fracking consent must be applied for and may only be issued by the Secretary of State where they are satisfied that particular conditions have been met. These include:
- Public notification of the planning application;
- Pre-fracking methane monitoring:
- Use of approved substances;
- Appropriate arrangements for monitoring of methane emissions in the air;
- Not fracking in protected areas;
- The Local Planning Authority’s consideration of the cumulative effects of that planning permission and others;
- The Local Planning Authority’s consideration of imposing a restoration condition.
- Such conditions may be considered met by the submission of specified documents, however this will not be the only way of meeting the conditions.