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Infrastructure Bill is amended to push fracking agenda

Earlier in the summer, SchNEWS broke the story of the infamous Infrastructure Bill. The new law, still winding its way through parliament, will allow for any public land to be 'transferred' via a Government body to private developers.The Infrastructure Bill is still very much happening, and it's got even uglier. We're talking compulsory fracking uglier.

Just before the House of Lords broke for the summer recess in July, the Government sneaked in an amendment to the Bill which will make it a legal requirement to "maximise economic recovery of petroleum". This includes draining the North Sea of oil as well as exploiting all the "upstream petroleum" from the land. Upstream petroleum includes shale gas. The clause states: "A person must act in accordance with the current strategy or strategies when planning and carrying out the commissioning of upstream petroleum infrastructure". It means everyone's hands are tied: if you don't promote shale or gas, you are breaking the law!

Today marks the final day of a 'consultation', trying to persuade landowners that fracking under their land would not inconvenience them - and they might even get £20,000 for the privilege of risking earthquakes and polluted water supplies in their backyards. All in the interests of the nation, of course, in its boundless pursuit of shale gas.

Another bribe for unwanted back yard developments came in the form of suggested 'community shares' for local publics, although this is presently only recommended for renewable energy projects. You ain't getting none of those Big Energy shale profits. All these recommendations came from the commissioned Wood Report. Sir Ian Wood is a billionaire who provides services for the oil and gas company. No question of a conflict of interest, then.

All political parties except the Greens are supportive of the shale industry. The Bill is due to complete its course through Parliament and get the Queen's rubber stamp in March, just two months before the elections.Could it be in the interest of all parties (besides Green) to get this passed with the minimum of fuss? Whoever wins in May 2015, the door will have been left open for England's (and Wales') green and pleasant land to be concreted over or pockmarked with holes at the behest of Government's big business pals.

The UK mainstream media has focused entirely on the proposed change to trespass laws – the change which allows fracking under people's homes without permission – but has remained silent on the Infrastructure Bill's impact on big frack jobs on public land. Apart from George Monbiot (cheers for the shout out, George) in the Guardian.

However, there is opposition: forest campaigners, the Open Spaces Society, Woodland Trust, the Campaign for Better Transport, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and one solitary authority, North Devon Council, over the wide-ranging measures outlined in the Bill. The Forest of Dean campaign group Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF) is demanding a written exemption in the Bill and has provided advice on who and how to lobby.

The Government has already issued several statements claiming the Government will not include public forests in Clause 21 of the Bill (public land 'transfers'). But if the Bill is passed into law next March, the succeeding government two months later may well not be bound by any of the assurances.

However, there are plenty of other reasons why people up and down the country should be concerned at the massive scope. Here are some of the things the Infrastructure Bill facilitates, or paves the way for:

1. An unbridled rail and road-building programme (Part 1 of the Bill), including high-speed railways affordable only for the rich and toll motorways, with existing watchdogs replaced by one that solely represents road users and ignores any communities in the path of the roads. The Highways Agency will be replaced by one or more 'Strategic Highways Companies'. The Government claims this does not mean control and building of all the roads will be privatised (yeah, right).

2. The Government will have powers to enter any land and kill everything on a list of 'invasive' and 'non-native' species list (part 2). As well as the obvious contenders such as grey squirrels, mink, knotweed etc, this includes wild boar, goshawks and other once "indigenous" beasts that have returned.

3. For projects judged as 'nationally important infrastructure' (part 3 - clauses 17 to 19) - everything will be decided by a government minister and two planning inspectors, without bothering to ask local people or local authorities their views. There is no criteria listed, so the term could mean a new town, nuclear power station, an airport.

4. What has upset North Devon council is Clause 20, which puts more pressure on already cuts-ridden local authorities to enforce planning restrictions within a short time limit, or they will be discharged by the committee of two planning inspectors.

5. Clause 21 allows any public land to be sold or given to private developers, via the "land disposal" body, the Homes & Communities Agency. There is nothing in the Bill which restricts or outlines any types of land up for grabs, nor is there any parameters for what kind of development will be allowed. At any time, a government minister can make a list of 'land transfer schemes' designated by whatever government body or minister claims to 'own' the land. Clause 22 allows any rights of access, or easements, to be overriden by the HCA or developers.

6. The Government recently changed its mind about privatising the Land Registry. We better hope it stays that way, because Clauses 23 to 25 bestow massive powers on the body, allowing it to be the judge, jury and executioner on all land ownership matters.

7. Those building less than 50 houses in a development will not be required to make them zero carbon. (And of course, there is nothing in the Bill which insists on any proportion of affordable or 'social' housing, either).

8. Yet to be introduced, changes to the trespass laws to prevent anyone from trying to stop fracking on any land. Can you clarify this please – landowners, protesters, injunctions or a new law?

So there you have it folks - a Bill that is three-quarters of the way through the House of Lords, set to be passed in March 2015, supported by all 'sides' of Parliament, which allows the government to build elite roads and railways, frack everywhere, take power from local authorities on planning decisions, and privatise any public land. It's time to get informed and get active.

There are 3 comments on this story...
Added By: Anonymous - 21st August 2014 @ 9:31 AM
We are overwhelmed by events in the middle East that it's been easy for the goverment to pass under the radar these momentuous changes almost unnoticed. They are taking away the right for people to decide on matters on their doorstep. This is not democracy it's doctatorship!
Added By: Dee Mented - 21st August 2014 @ 3:30 PM
Species Control Orders - applicable to GMO's me thinks!
Added By: Anonymous - 28th August 2014 @ 6:03 PM
Why isn't the LGA going loud on this? It affects local government absolutely, too.
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