Infrastructure Bill [Lords]

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 9:41 pm on 8th December 2014.

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Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 9:41 pm, 8th December 2014

One of its aims is indeed to streamline decision making to make sure that national infrastructure projects are built on time.

A few Members mentioned the part of the Bill that deals with invasive non-native species. Species control orders will be used to support national eradication programmes for newly arrived species in exceptional circumstances. We expect approximately only one such order to be issued a year, and we do not intend species control orders to be used where the reintroduction of former native species is undertaken legally. I hope that reassures the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, who had a particular concern about the European beaver.

The shadow Minister asked about the operation of the habitats directive of the European Union. Our responsibilities under the habitats directive extend only to protecting those European-protected species whose natural range includes Great Britain. Many of the species listed in the habitats directive, such as the crested porcupine and the marsh frog, are clearly non-native to Great Britain and could be invasive. The directive allows for derogations from protection in certain circumstances, including for reasons of public health or environmental protection.

Several Members spoke in support of the deemed discharge proposals to speed up planning consents under the Bill. The deemed discharge of planning conditions is indeed a good example of where a small legislative change, as proposed in the Bill, provides far greater certainty for house builders, other planning applicants and communities. Feedback from the sector is that local planning authorities often take longer than the statutory eight-week period to reach decisions, preventing building work from starting on sites. This measure will help to ensure that local authorities hit the deadlines that they should already be working towards.

Zero-carbon homes is the part of the Bill for which my Department is responsible, and I am particularly proud that we have got to this moment. Concerns were, however, mentioned by Mr Raynsford, Dr Whitehead and my right hon. Friend Sir Andrew Stunell. The intention of clause 32 is to make sure that all new homes achieve a zero-carbon standard from 2016—either through on-site measures or off site where on-site measures are not physically possible. As my right hon. Friend mentioned, there have in fact been two tightenings of part L of the building regulations in this Parliament: one when he held my post in 2011 and one in April this year. Together, those two measures have increased by 30% the energy performance of new homes built with planning permissions after those dates.

From 2016, we want another 20% advance in the energy efficiency of new homes across the mix of housing. Those energy efficiency measures should be done on site where possible, but off site where not. There could be practical reasons why those energy efficiency measures could not be introduced on site. That is why it is necessary to provide for a scheme of allowable solutions. This incorporates a wide range of measures such as the retrofitting of older housing stock—several Members mentioned that there could be a great need for that—and there could be local or national schemes where we need to act together as a nation and not necessarily tie the allowable solutions scheme to local authorities.