On Monday in Parliament we debated the government’s infrastructure Bill. It sets out three main changes in the name of improving the country’s infrastructure.
The first is to speed improved roads and get value for highways expenditure. The Highways Agency is being turned into a company owned by the taxpayer. It will be more independent of government, will have five year budgets with the government pledging money for the whole period, and will be under the surveillance of two quangos to monitor the cost effectiveness and the customer performance of its activities.
I welcome the decision to spend more on road building, after a prolonged period of spending too little to too little positive effect. I would prefer the accountability of the new company to be directly to Ministers and Parliament. This would save money and ensure tougher scrutiny. I do not want another body which affects my constituents lives where I have to correspond with a quango that can avoid direct exchanges, where Ministers would have to resp0nd directly in Parliament.
The second is to permit drilling for shale gas and other hydrocarbon at depths of 300 metres and lower. This is part of a package of measures the government is taking to try to stimulate shale gas exploration and development in the UK. It should be seen in the context of the establishment of a new regulatory office for shale setting standards of safety and environmental protection, and in the context of the general planning framework.
The third is change to encourage more sale and re-use of brownfield public sector land. Most people prefer new development on land which has been developed before. Despite various attempts by past Ministers to get a bigger flow of underused and unused public sector land back into use, it has proved slow going. The question is will this new attempt be more successful?
The Bill also contains powers to allow a community to buy into local renewable electricity developments, to control animal and plant species that represent a hazard, and to raise a levy on certain energy industry licence holders.