Government wins parliamentary battles

13th June 2016

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Grahame Poulson

New bills on energy and housing development have received Royal Assent after the government defeated amendments on renewables obligations, zero-carbon homes and flood prevention.

The Energy Act creates the Oil and Gas Authority as a regulator for onshore and offshore oil and gas operations; extends the Petroleum Act 1998 to Northern Ireland; and establishes fees for activities relating to oil, gas, carbon dioxide and pipelines. The government has used it to close the Renewables Obligation (RO) early for onshore wind schemes from 12 May.

An amendment put forward by Labour peer Lord Grantchester sought to weaken the impact on developers that had already committed resources by making the proposed grace periods more generous. But it was defeated by 286 votes to 260. Energy minister Andrea Leadsom claimed that the UK would generate 35% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020–21, above the target of 30%. The proposed grace period would increase consumer bills, she said.

Meanwhile, the Housing and Planning Act contains measures to speed up house building, including automatic planning consent on sites identified by councils as suitable for development. Four peers, including former Environment Agency chief executive Baroness Young and a member of the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Krebs, put forward an amendment on behalf of a group of professional bodies including the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, the Institute of Civil Engineers and the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management.

The proposed amendment would have restricted developers’ automatic right to directly connect new homes to existing drainage systems and instead require the use of sustainable urban draining systems (SuDS), such as ponds. These were legislated for in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 but never implemented. The amendment was defeated in the House of Commons, with a provision added instead for a government review of planning legislation, national planning policy and local planning policies on sustainable drainage.

A further proposed amendment, from Baroness Parminter, would have required housebuilders to reduce carbon emissions from new homes after the government scrapped the zero-carbon target last summer. The proposal received strong support from the House of Lords, but the government defeated it by four votes. In its place, a clause committing to a review of the energy efficiency standard for new homes in the building regulations was agreed. The review clause contained neither timescales nor specific criteria for the review.

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