1020: LURB becomes LURA and King’s Speech delivered
Today’s entry covers the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 and the infrastructure-related measures in the King’s Speech.
Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023
On 26 October 2023, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, or LURB, received royal assent to become the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023, or LURA, a ‘word’ last heard in the lyrics of Come On Eileen. The Act took eight days to be published but is now available here.
The Act has changed a lot since the bill was introduced in Parliament; it originally had 338 pages, 196 clauses, and 17 schedules, whereas it now has 537 pages, 256 sections, and 24 schedules. The infrastructure planning-related provisions are as follows.
Part 3 of the Act is concerned with planning. The first few sections cover ‘planning data’, ie a move from a paper-based system to a standardised digital system. One of the ‘relevant planning authorities’ that may be required to use approved planning data software is Examining Authorities examining DCO applications, I don’t think they’ve been in that category before.
Section 103 excludes nationally significant infrastructure projects from the scope of ‘street votes’, not surprisingly.
By the way, if you are adding section 62QH to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, perhaps it is time for it to be consolidated and re-numbered, and it looks as if that might be about to happen; section 132 concerns itself with ‘pre-consolidation amendments’ (and also covers the Planning Act 2008).
Section 133 lets the Secretary of State allow people to be able to attend proceedings remotely on all relevant occasions, including DCO hearings. Rather old-fashionedly, it refers to ‘a live television link’.
In the ‘other provision’ chapter of that part, we have some infrastructure-related provisions:
- Section 122 continues the obligation for pre-application consultation for town and country planning applications where it applies, and it only currently applies to onshore windfarms. So much for a level playing field.
- Section 126 adds a new section 54A to the Planning Act 2008 to allow regulations to be made so that certain public bodies can charge fees for their services, including consultation responses. According to the Action Plan consultation, this will initially be limited to: the Environment Agency, Natural England, Historic England, National Highways, the Coal Authority, the Health and Safety Executive, Marine Management Organisation, and Natural Resources Wales.
- Section 127 allows examination deadlines to be set at the beginning to be shorter than six months. They can already be shorter than six months voluntarily, but rarely are – work expands to fill the time available.
- Section 128 allows regulations that can impose time limits for non-material change applications, so a few stages to go before that actually happens.
Those last three sections will come into force two months after royal assent, ie on Boxing Day.
Part 6 (sections 152 – 167) concerns the replacement of Environmental Impact Assessment with a new concept of Environmental Outcomes Reports (pronounced Eeyores, of course). These provisions also come into force on Boxing Day. Section 165 repeals section 71A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which allows environmental impact assessment regulations to be made for the existing regime. Normally, if an order-making power is repealed, any orders made under it also vanish. In this case, however, EIA regulations are also stated to be made under the European Communities Act, now the EU Withdrawal Act, and so we think they will still exist once Christmas hangovers have died down.
Although not NSIP-related, the new infrastructure levy is being added to the Planning Act 2008 as Schedule 10A, just before the community infrastructure levy schedule.
That’s about it for LURA.
The King’s Speech
On 7 November Parliament started a new session, and King Charles III delivered the first King’s Speech, announcing the government’s legislative programme for it, for 72 years. The last one delivered by a king was actually in 1950, because George VI was too ill to attend the 1951 speech.
The King’s Speech was accompanied by a briefing document that outlines details of 21 bills. That may seem like a lot, but quite a few are carried over from the last session, and none of them appear particularly substantial. There is not much infrastructure-related.
The first bill listed is the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill. Most of the ‘What does the Bill do?’ section of the briefing document doesn’t say what the Bill will do, but it appears that the North Sea Transition Authority will be required to invite applications for licences annually rather than having any discretion in the matter, as currently. It did so annually from 2015 to 2019 before having a pandemic pause and resuming in 2022, so that doesn’t seem like a particularly revolutionary provision.
The second element which was heralded as ‘projects will have to meet net zero commitments’ (see eg here) turns out to be that carbon emissions only need to be lower than the equivalent amount of imported liquefied natural gas, which is not the strictest net zero obligation I have ever seen.
The only other bill that is even loosely connected to infrastructure is only a draft bill—the only one in the list—meaning it will probably not become law in the current session. It is the Rail Reform Bill. The ‘What does the Bill do?’ section forgets to say the main thing it will do, namely establish ‘Great British Railways’, replacing Network Rail and combining operational and infrastructure roles.
Not mentioned in the speech, somewhat surprisingly, the High Speed Rail (Crewe to Manchester) Bill has been revived for the new session. This is apparently because it is going to be used as a vehicle for some ‘Network North’ projects. The bill is here and you can tell it is this session by the ’58 / 4′ in the bottom right-hand corner, meaning the fourth session of the 58th parliament (ie between general elections) since 1801.
And that’s it.
DCO decision news
Finally, a decision on the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine DCO application, due on 7 November 2023, has been delayed by four months to 7 March 2024. This continues the trend of delayed decisions running at about 50% and is particularly ironic as this was supposedly the ‘Project Speed’ test case DCO for seeing what could be done faster.
Two DCO decisions are due next week, for the North Lincolnshire Green Energy Park DCO on 15 November 2023 and the delayed Net Zero Teesside DCO on 16 November 2023.