Highways Agency reform kicks off as Infrastructure Bill gets first reading today

The Bill containing legislation to turn the Highways Agency into an arms length government company had its first reading this morning (Friday). As reported in Infrastructure Intelligence on Wednesday the Bill was laid before Parliament in the House of Lords today.

Road investment strategies that are key to the Agency establishing its forward work programme and funding requirement over a five year, regulated investment period will be released by the end of June, sources have said.

The Agency legislation is part of the broader Infrastructure Bill which Department for Transport is shepherding through Parliament. Provisions to allow fracking under homes that could cause a delay have not been included in the Bill laid before Parliament today but could be introduced as an ammendment later. Additionally measures to allow housing developers to offset zero carbon homes requirements by making a cash contribution to local authorities could also appear at a later stage. 

The aim is to get legislation passed and the Agency established as a company before the General Election next May. Road investment by 2021 is expected to hit £4bn a year, four times the £1bn of 2013.

Key aims of the Infrastructure Bill are to

•  improve the funding and management of major roads

•  streamline the planning process for major projects

•  protect infrastructure from invasive plants and animals

•  support house building

•  make it easier and cheaper to register land and property

•  help communities become stakeholders in renewable electricity projects

The bill and its supporting documents are on the Parliament website.


The bill would turn the Highways Agency into a government-owned company. It would also provide for stable, long term funding for national strategic road infrastructure projects, to create and repair the motorways and major A routes that support the economy. It would create units within Passenger Focus and the Office of Rail Regulation to represent the interests of road users and to monitor the company’s performance.

Invasive non-native species

The bill would provide more power to control the invasive, non-native species that pose serious threats to biodiversity, the water environment and infrastructure. This was one of the measures looked at by the Law Commission consultation paper on wildlife law in 2012, and its subsequent report of February 2014.

Nationally significant infrastructure projects

The bill would simplify and speed up measures introduced in the Planning Act 2008 for handling minor changes to existing planning permissions for major projects. It would also simplify the processes for more significant changes.

The bill would allow the examining authority, a group of inspectors who consider major applications, to be appointed immediately after an application has been accepted. It would also allow the panel to comprise 2 inspectors, speeding up the process and saving money.

Deemed discharge for certain planning conditions

The bill would allow certain types of planning conditions to be regarded as discharged if a local planning authority has not notified the applicant of their decision within a prescribed time period. This will reduce unnecessary delay and costs. A consultation on the detailed operation of this proposal will be published shortly.

Public sector land assets

The bill would permit land to be transferred directly from arms-length bodies to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). This would reduce bureaucracy, manage land more effectively, and get more homes built.

The bill would make sure that future purchasers of land owned by HCA and the Greater London Authority (GLA) will be able to develop and use land without being affected by easements and other rights and restrictions suspended by the agency. Sometimes land owned by HCA and GLA has easements or rights and restrictions from its previous use. At the moment HCA and the GLA can suspend these, but not pass that suspension on. The bill would make sure that purchasers of this land would also benefit from the suspension.

Land Registry

The bill would also allow Land Registry to take on statutory responsibility for the Local Land Charges register and an extension of powers would also allow Land Registry to play a wider role in the property market. Consultation on these measures took place between January and March 2014.


The bill would also give communities the right to buy a stake in their local renewable electricity scheme – the community electricity right – so that they can own a greater share of the financial benefits.



The Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech. A quick quide to other issues for the upcoming Parliament can be found here.

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