Out-Law News 2 min. read

Expert calls for reassurance after UK drops infrastructure provisions from bill

The UK government must quickly confirm its commitment to an independent National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) in order to reassure the industry after expected provisions were dropped from new legislation, an expert has said.

The government had committed to enshrining the NIC's independence as part of a Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill, which was announced in May as part of the Queen's Speech. Although it has now published a Neighbourhood Planning Bill, this makes no reference to either the NIC or proposals to privatise the Land Registry, which was similarly included in the Queen's Speech.

Infrastructure planning expert Robbie Owen of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, described the omission as "a surprise".

"Following the Armitt review in 2013, there has been much cross-party support for a statutory body to provide the government with expert, independent advice on the much-needed infrastructure investment for the UK, and the government carried out a detailed consultation on the proposed legislation only earlier this year," he said.

"This sudden change of course will not help a jittery infrastructure sector post-Brexit, already wondering what the new government means for infrastructure investment. So it's essential that the government rapidly explains why the NIC has been dropped from the bill, reassures us that it is still committed to a NIC and confirms that infrastructure investment, informed by the NIC, is a top priority," he said.

The Neighbourhood Planning Bill contains a number of proposed changes to the neighbourhood planning regime. If passed in its current form, the legislation will require planning decision-takers to have regard to neighbourhood plans that have passed examinations when deciding planning applications, among other measures.

The creation of the independent NIC was announced by then chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, in October 2015. The NIC, which is being chaired by former transport secretary Lord Andrew Adonis on an interim basis, was set up in order to take a long-term look at the UK's infrastructure needs and to provide independent advice to ministers and parliament.

The government published its plans for the structure and governance of the NIC earlier this year, which included putting the new body on a statutory footing in a way that would ensure its "independence and credibility". A requirement for the NIC to deliver a National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) at the beginning of every parliament would also have been included in that legislation, according to that consultation. The NIC has already produced recommendations to government on three priority projects, and is leading a UK-wide project on the country's longer term infrastructure needs.

In a statement provided to Out-Law.com, an NIC spokesperson said that the new UK government, led by Theresa May, had "made clear that it strongly supports the NIC and its ongoing work".

"The NIC was established to transform the way we plan and deliver major infrastructure projects in this country by providing clear and independent strategic advice to government," the spokesperson said.

"What matters is that the Commission is established in a way that firmly secures its independence, provides the powers that it needs to do its job and places clear obligations on government to respond to its recommendations in a timely fashion. How this is done is a matter for government – but if the Commission is to succeed in its work it will be essential to get it right, and we look forward to seeing the government's new proposals as soon as possible," the spokesperson said.

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