Electricity Transmission (Compensation) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:55 am on 21 April 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 10:55, 21 April 2023

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord McLoughlin for bringing forward this Bill, which has already had a successful passage through the other place. I also thank noble Lords from across the House for their valuable contributions to today’s debate.

The Government are pleased to support this important Bill, which helps to ensure that landowners will have access to a clear, fair, affordable and enforceable system for dispute resolution. The measures in the Bill will support the vital transformation needed for our electricity network. We need to expand the grid at an unprecedented scale and pace to deliver more clean, affordable power and to increase our energy security, with electricity demand potentially more than doubling by 2050. In March the Government published our Powering Up Britain: Energy Security Plan, building on our commitment, made in the British Energy Security Strategy, to accelerate the delivery of transmission network infrastructure by at least three years, with an ambition to cut delivery times in half.

However, we still firmly believe that new network infrastructure must be built in a way that protects the rights of local landowners and communities. That is why, alongside our energy security plan, the Government have published a consultation on providing benefits to communities hosting transmission network infrastructure, to recognise the vital role that these communities play in supporting the delivery of cheaper, secure and low-carbon energy. Separately from the focus of the community benefits consultation, we are aware of the issues that may arise between landowners and transmission network owners, such as national grid electricity transmission, when installing network infrastructure.

Where transmission owners need access to private land, landowners are entitled to compensation, and in a small proportion of cases where compensation cannot be agreed on, this may cause disputes and raise challenges via the Upper Tribunal, which can be expensive and time-consuming for landowners. The Bill presents an opportunity to address this issue by ensuring access to alternative dispute resolution processes, which can play such a crucial role in offering a quicker and cheaper route to resolving disputes. It is very encouraging to hear the support across this House from the two noble Baronesses on the Front Benches; I will address some of the specific points shortly.

First, I shall cover the key reasons why the Government are supporting this legislation. The Bill was first introduced in the other place by my right honourable friend Dr Liam Fox. It was a response to his constituents raising concerns about disagreements with the transmission operator over land in the path of overhead transmission lines that were built to connect Hinkley Point C nuclear power station to the grid. The cost and risk of taking the case to the Upper Tribunal meant that some landowners would be reluctant to challenge compensation offered by the transmission operator. Dr Liam Fox acknowledged the importance of energy infrastructure development but said that more should be done to protect landowners involved in compensation disputes with network operators.

The Bill requires that government bring forward proposals on alternative dispute resolution processes in cases where land or land rights have been acquired for the building of electricity transmission network infrastructure and there is a dispute about compensation. The intention is that proposals would encourage and facilitate the use of alternative dispute resolution, thereby helping disputing parties to avoid having to take a case to the Upper Tribunal.

Clause 1 requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament proposals to improve access to alternative dispute resolution processes in electricity-related land acquisition cases. Proposals must ensure that alternative dispute resolution processes are available that could determine the amount of compensation paid to landowners and that these processes are enforceable, accessible and affordable for landowners. The processes must be managed in a way independent of the landowner and the transmission owner. Proposals must be set out in a report that will be laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State, who must consult any party they feel is appropriate.

The second clause clarifies the extent and the commencement date. The Bill extends to England, Wales and Scotland, and comes into force at the end of the period of two months, beginning with the day on which it is passed. However, in practice, the Bill will affect Scotland only in limited circumstances, as it applies to cases where a development consent order has been granted for electricity transmission infrastructure under the Planning Act 2008. However, the development consent order process does not apply in Scotland, except under limited circumstances that do not relate to electricity transmission.

As for the ongoing work to establish an alternative dispute resolution task force, the Government committed to establish a task force to bring forward proposals for alternative dispute resolution related to the Bill. My noble friend Lord McLoughlin asked for more detail on the timing and composition of the task force, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Blake. I confirm that the task force will be established this year; the department is engaging with network operators, representatives of landowners and experts in acquisition of land and alternative dispute resolution to ensure that it has the appropriate membership. The work of this task force will complement work already going on to reform land rights and consent processes for network infrastructure. The Government published a call for evidence in summer 2022 to establish how the land rights and consent processes affect stakeholders and to inform whether reform is required. The Government are considering all responses and plan to publish a response to the call for evidence this year.

Turning to other points made by noble Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly pointed to the competing interests in land use and the inequality of arms between landowners and the developers of infrastructure. The Bill seeks to address this and will be a speedier and less costly recourse for landowners, but they will still be able to seek redress through the Upper Tribunal, should they choose.

Strategic planning plays an important role in delivering vital network infrastructure, initially through the holistic network design, which sets out the key strategic transmission infrastructure required to connect up to 50 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, that the Government are still committed to accelerating the rollout of grid infrastructure and associated economic growth, levelling up and net-zero opportunities. We are also committed to ensuring the rights of local landowners and that communities’ rights are protected. This has been made clear, for example, through our recent publication of the energy security plan.

It is the role of the task force to develop proposals, including consideration of how to ensure the process does not delay the implementation of new infrastructure. Furthermore, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, access to enforceable alternative dispute resolution will provide an alternative route to the Upper Tribunal. This should save time and money for parties involved. The task force will develop proposals and the Government will consider how we assess their impact, including their timing and cost. Proposals that standardise access to alternative dispute resolution will increase awareness of existing routes, encourage uptake and avoid cases having to go to the Upper Tribunal.

To conclude, the Bill is vital to ensure that landowners have access to a clear, fair, affordable and enforceable system for dispute resolution. The Government continue to support the Bill and we are glad to see the level of support across this House throughout today’s debate. Again, I thank my noble friend Lord McLoughlin for taking this important legislation through the House. The Government wish it a speedy passage.