Parliament’s New Chainsaw – The Infrastructure Bill

18/10/2014

in Infrastructure Bill

UPDATE: Due to many requests for a petition we have created one which you can find here:

SAVE OUR FORESTS & PUBLIC LAND! Amend or Scrap the destructive Infrastructure Bill

Please sign and share! Thank you.

 

Article by Owen Adams of Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF) 

DID you know legislation is currently being pushed through Parliament that will allow any public land to be transferred by a Government agency, all rights of way extinguished, to private developers?

Did you know the same law – the Infrastructure Bill – will allow any substance whatsoever to be dumped under any land, and that it will become a legal objective to frack anywhere where there is the potential of shale gas, or turn any coal seam into gas?

Did you also know that the same law gives the potential go-ahead to exterminate barn owls, red kites, goshawks, wild boar, and a great many other species not deemed as ‘native’?

You’d be forgiven for not knowing because incredibly – despite its massive implications for nature, the environment and also our rural and urban spaces – the Infrastructure Bill has almost entirely not made the news.

Parliaments new chainsaw
A new mural has appeared on the side of a Forest of Dean home in protest at the negative impact the proposed infrastructure bill could have on our public forests. Painted by artist Tom Cousins

 

There are no celebrities crying ‘foul’ or any politicians who are supposed to be opposed to the Government. It’s almost as if all parties want this law to be passed under the radar, because whoever gets in after May 2015 will have carte blanche to hand over our countryside, urban public spaces, and the ground we walk and live on, to multinational companies.

Thankfully people have started raising the alarm about the TTIP US-EU trade deal and its potential for the privatisation of everything. These discussions are being held behind closed doors, and its only thanks to leaks from German MEPs that we have an inkling of what’s being said.

The Infrastructure Bill, however, has already been debated in the House of Lords for a total period of about 10 days, and yet apparently it’s not worth reporting. The Bill in its totality, and all the proposed amendments, can be read on the Parliament website. It’s there in black and white.

And yet we campaigners in the Forest of Dean only spotted its existence and content when, disappointed after draft legislation we’d been promised aimed at protecting our forests was jettisoned by the Government in June, we decided to look into what else the Government might have up its sleeve.

As soon as we raised the alarm, the Government attempted to put the lid on by confirming forests weren’t included in the land transfer schemes contained in Clause 21 of the Bill. I invite anyone to read this section, as the only land exempt from disposal detailed in the Bill is that owned by the royal family.

We have heard various arguments – forests and national parks can’t be included because they are not surplus, the only land being considered is brownfield, and only land held by arms-length bodies can be included. I’ll let anyone read Clause 21 (and Section 53A of it in particular) themselves and draw their own conclusions. The words surplus, brownfield, arms-length or any equivalent do not appear.

There is no exemption whatsoever for any public land (apart from Crown) contained within the Bill.
An oversight, poorly defined drafting that could easily be rectified, you’d think. If the Government says forests aren’t at risk of land transfer schemes, then why not amend the Bill to state that?

But Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, a member of the Hands Off Our Forest steering group, with the Bishop of St Albans, have been told by the Government’s Baroness Kramer that their amendment to exclude the Public Forest Estate “will be resisted”.

The Bill is due to be debated in the Reports Stage in November. After that there will be a third reading and – if the Government doesn’t back the amendment on forests – there is likely to be a vote. Hence we at HOOF are urging people to lobby lords to support Baroness Royall and the Bishop of St Albans’ amendment. See www.handsoffourforest.org

The fracking elements also cause us alarm because our Forest of Dean is a coalfield – coal gasification (when seams are set fire to and the gas recovered from a power plant above) is part of the proposed ‘energy mix’; we also have proposed expansion of nuclear power stations just across the river (Severn) from us. Back in the 1980s, the Government tried to persuade the local authority to allow disused mine shafts to dump radioactive waste. The waste produced from fracking is also partly radioactive.

So there we have it, the Infrastructure Bill – opening the door wide for any future government to take any land, override any easements and rights of way, and give to the Government, with a wide remit to destroy a wide range of species, and to frack under any public or private land. Energy minister Baroness Verma noted in the last day of the Committee stage in the Lords (October 14) that regarding the consultation about fracking: “Stakeholder responses from the petroleum and geothermal industry unanimously supported the legislation, as did wider industry, such as manufacturing, the steel industry and engineering associations… Environmental groups and various civil society organisations opposed legislation. Having carefully considered the various issues raised within the consultation responses and whether any compelling new arguments had been presented, we firmly believe that the proposed policy is the right approach.”

Remember February 2011, when the Government’s Caroline Spelman made great virtue of the fact that the Government had listened to the public when she ditched the forests sell-off proposal? Well the public’s views don’t seem to be worth listening to now, not big industry has spoken…

Here in the Forest of Dean, thanks to us extensively leafletting and using social media, there is a growing clamour against the Infrastructure Bill. The media have given us no help – recent correspondence with one editor said unless we “hit them between the eyes” it won’t make the paper. Our remit is protecting the Public Forest Estate, others may want to protect their local beach, mountain, park, recreation ground, allotment or remaining green space…

I would have thought everyone should be up in arms about this. Are you? Will you help us spread the word?

Below are a couple of links which give some background:

http://www.schnews.org.uk/stories/FRACK-TO-FRONT/

http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2447901/save_our_public_lands_and_forests.html

We don’t have long to stop this! Affirmative action now, or else…

 

OWEN ADAMS, HANDS OFF OUR FOREST

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Catherine October 18, 2014 at 22:54

You should start a petition on one of the petition sites like change.org or avviz. I’ve seen a lot of them make an impact.

Reply

Anne Armstrong October 22, 2014 at 17:23

Yes start a petition, it is quite simple I understand, it is the only thing these days that makes government take notice.

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Paul Hurst October 23, 2014 at 19:28

Yes they take notice and laugh, and then do what they want anyway.
Lampposts and ropes would be a more effective solution

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judith mottershead October 25, 2014 at 15:08

just leave all these woods and forests for future generations it is not ours to destroy

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Peter November 4, 2014 at 15:19

There’s a larger petition from 38degrees at https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/infrastructure-bill#petition

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Ashley October 19, 2014 at 15:44

This is certainly bad news not just for those of you who live in the beautiful Forest of Dean but for everyone in these islands! Our politicians, whichever party, are an absolute disgrace & have proven over the last twenty years that they cannot be trusted.

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Elaine Downie October 20, 2014 at 17:13

I find the whole thing very frightening. What on earth
are they trying to do to our “green and pleasant” land ?

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Adam October 20, 2014 at 17:54

Hi,

I’m a little confused by the timing of all this. Why has it started in the Lords? I always thought Bills started in the Commons, moved to the Lords then if loads of are amendments are needed are bounced back and forth in a process that can sometimes take years. I followed one Bill and it took almost a year just to get out of the Commons.

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SaveOurWoods October 21, 2014 at 11:01

Hi Adam, I don’t know why this bill has started in the Lords, I will ask and let you know here.

It is possible for bills to start in the Lords. Here’s more info on the process here: http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/laws/passage-bill/

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Jenny Stewart October 21, 2014 at 10:30

Yes please do start a pettion with the governments website as well as change.org etc

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Anna donfrancesco October 22, 2014 at 00:24

We must fight this one

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Chris Gregson October 22, 2014 at 07:13

Seriously, how much lower can this Government go? I lived in Edge End for 15 years so this attack feels personal.

As the media tend to wait for press releases, you’ll probably have to write one to save them from having to do any time-consuming journalism. I’s suggest George Monbiot and Charlie Brooker from the Guardian, Simon Jenkins from the Times and the producers of Countryfile & Autumnwatch at the BBC. Best of luck auld butts.

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SaveOurWoods October 22, 2014 at 07:58

I know that HooF have sent out press releases before now to the media and we have been spreading the word to media and NGO’s. Seems only a couple of media outlets were interested. I know that George Monbiot has written about the bill a couple of times (perhaps more), in relation to non-native species and also in relation to the flogging off of public land and access rights

Keep sharing and talking about the infrastructure bill, it’ll encourage the mainstream media to pick it up!

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Rupert Mitchell October 22, 2014 at 07:36

Yet another devious underhand attempt to sell national assets to its crony friends which must be stopped. This government is here to manage not to sell out assets and needs to be removed from office in May 2015 before it has sold off the entire country for the benefit of its own kind.

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Kevin Donovan October 22, 2014 at 07:47

Shared! Thanks! But please can you insert an apostrophe just like the wall painting uses? Cheers.

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SaveOurWoods October 22, 2014 at 07:48

Done! Thanks :)

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Jay Tee October 22, 2014 at 08:18

Are the Green Party not protesting about this? I know there are tons of things going on that are putting peoples heads in a spin trying to keep aware of the next underhand ploy from this Parliament. But Caroline Lucas has protested against Fracking. Maybe a press release to them? I’ll see if I can put this on their FB page. All those people campaigning to save their bit of local greenery really need to get behind this and be proactive.

Would other disused coalfields be under the same risk of fracking use and potential radioactive dumping? This is mind blowing!

As suggested above why has this not gone through the House of Commons? Although to be honest, the Welfare Bill was rushed and pushed through with haste and has proved devastating to many. Maybe they learnt their lesson from the protests that ensued over that.

TTIP in its written form, really is only the tip of the iceberg!

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HOOF November 1, 2014 at 22:02

It appears the Green Party are on to it now… had a message from Jenny Jones forwarded to me indicating she is opposing this Bill.

This will go through the Commons after it has finished in the Lords, which may be within a couple of weeks.

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Jay Tee November 4, 2014 at 11:28

Great. I tried to post on FB and wasn’t allowed so sent a message with the link! Thanks for your update.

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Wendy October 22, 2014 at 10:02
Russ October 23, 2014 at 16:15

Signed and shared.

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Gareth Young October 22, 2014 at 20:51

I bet this only applies to England, right?

The UK Government seems to enjoy selling off English assets so that the other nations can afford free prescriptions and university fees.

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Bob McMahon October 23, 2014 at 08:39

It’s almost certainly an England-only Bill. It would be helpful if HOOF made it clear that the other nations are not affected by this.

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Bob McMahon October 23, 2014 at 08:41

Sorry, that should be Save Our Woods, not HOOF, who should make it clear that this Bill applies to England only.

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SaveOurWoods October 23, 2014 at 10:40

Hello Bob, We don’t edit contributors articles. How this bill could affect Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a good question though. Something to look into. Thanks, Hen

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HOOF October 23, 2014 at 18:57

we understand it is England and Wales for Clause 21, and Scotland as well for other parts of the Act (not sure about N Ireland). The info is tucked away in the Bill somewhere.

Kim Bowie October 26, 2014 at 22:01

I think you’ll find that Scotland is in the same boat and that we will have no right of appeal either if this goes ahead. Ian Wood who said the oil is running out on behalf of westminster during the referendum out has now been granted licences for fracking as his reward. Do some research as I have and prepare to be disgusted by all the other corrupt dealings at Westminster! Terrifying whats going on

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Louisa Sage October 23, 2014 at 06:35

Save our Forests

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Sophie Brown October 23, 2014 at 13:54

I totally agree that you should start a petition on change.org or Avaaz, these petitions can make such a difference and can gain a massive amount of support through facebook, twitter etc. If you found out how many names you would need to halt the progression of the bill, that could be really handy.

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Ashley October 23, 2014 at 18:20

It’s all very confusing! I belong to a couple of national organisations & often I’m voicing my opinion about some campaign or other, only to find out later that the issue doesn’t affect my part of the UK! When it comes to the environment we’re all in this together as one nation! Surely that makes sense! Next time I’m asked for my subscription to the Woodland Trust or the National Trust or the Ramblers Association maybe I’ll just say “we don’t have as many trees/big houses/rights of way, in my part of the UK so why should I continue my membership!” How would that go down?
I don’t live anywhere near the Forest of Dean or any forest for that matter, but I am passionate that the trees & the land they inhabit should be protected. LIFE IS BETTER WITH TREES!

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SaveOurWoods October 24, 2014 at 15:15

You’re so right, Life is better with trees, no matter whether they’re outside your door or the other side of the country!

It’s fantastic that the Forest of Dean have raised this as a threat but they aren’t just talking about the Forest of Dean, they’re talking about all of our publicly owned forests. It’s also about public green spaces. So you may not have many trees near you but I bet there are a few publicly owned green spaces knocking about. They are at threat too.

All without consultation or a care for how it might impact on our communities.

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anne upton October 23, 2014 at 18:23

When I was campaigning against building on the green belt just before the last general election, Labour were going to bring it in and I was told about it by CPRE. I met with Grant Shapps, who was desperately trying to put the Conservatives back in control and I bought the subject up. He said it was a wicked piece of legislation but would not be drawn on whether they would get rid of it if they were elected. Jacob Rees Mogg said that it was awful too but again would not agree to stopping it, which prompted my comment to him in a public meeting that bills that are awful when in opposition become useful tools when power is regained. All liars.
What we need is a “I do not consent” PUBLIC NOTICE. Consensus Facit Legem – Consent makes the law. Each area “rep” makes a simple notice, gets individuals to wet ink sign each one, collects them and presents them to their MP and tells him YOUR CONSTITUENTS DO NOT CONSENT” – so you are representative of our views, VOTE AGAINST IT – BY ORDER.

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Sandra Dudley October 23, 2014 at 20:37

I have signed the petition and sent it to all my wildlife contacts, this government is a total disgrace.

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Liz October 24, 2014 at 07:20

I agree. Start an ePetition on the 10 Downing Street website.

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HOOF October 24, 2014 at 10:49

Feel free to do so Liz. It is up to EVERYONE to help. A few can’t do everything.

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Sue andrews October 24, 2014 at 18:22

What happened to to the protection of these species of ancient trees, owls, bats, newts, wildlife etc. no one wants this just frack off Cameron, what is wrong with you?, watch America make these mistakes & learn from them, do not copy them into destruction. We want renewables not this shit.

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P Brundell October 26, 2014 at 12:24

It this goes ahead it will be the begining of the end! Do the people making these decisions truly not realise it will damage them and those they love too???

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Catherine Fish October 26, 2014 at 15:02

This should be forwarded to 38 Degrees

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HOOF October 26, 2014 at 17:01

We have now heard that Clause 21 of the Infrastructure Bill (re public land transfers) will be debated and voted on in the Lords on NOVEMBER 5. We don’t have long to stop this. We are calling on everyone to lobby Lords to ask them to back the amendment from Baroness Royall and the Bishop of St Albans to exempt forests… apparently the Lib Dem lords should be targeted in particular. See http://www.handsoffourforest.org for a sample letter and other advice on how to write.

We would also urge people everywhere between then and now to STAND UP FOR THEIR FORESTS AND PUBLIC LAND (AND AGAINST FRACKING) in whatever way they can. Short films and photos expressing your dissent/ one-person protests are all valid ways. In the Forest of Dean on November 5 we will be having a day of action. Why not make it a day of action everywhere?

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Alec Dauncey October 26, 2014 at 18:34

Why don’t you campaign for the Forest of Dean to be transferred to local community control?

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SaveOurWoods October 27, 2014 at 11:43

The Forest of Dean is an integral part of the Public Forest Estate, it’s a nationally owned and loved forest.

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HOOF October 26, 2014 at 18:51

Community management is another issue… the issue here is it’s not just the Forest of Dean at risk but the Public Forest Estate and all public land. The Bill is due to become law in March 2015.

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Stuart Clark October 27, 2014 at 06:14

For goodness sake start a petition and distribute the link via Twitter and Facebook! Make a Facebook page! You will find you have more friends across these islands – and abroad – than you thought!

Just do it!

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SaveOurWoods October 27, 2014 at 11:46

There is a Facebook page for the Infrastructure Bill here: http://www.facebook.com/groups/infrastructurebill

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People's Parliament - Scotland October 27, 2014 at 11:38

Start a petition today under the title “Infrastructure Bill” with change.org and 38 degrees and we will spread the word to as many people as possible and get signatures on it. Thanks.

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Eileen October 28, 2014 at 11:24

Keep up the good work. We will try and spread the word for you. We have green spaces in our town that we are trying to protect along with heritage items.
Good luck – we are all behind you!! :)

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Paloma Sparrow November 4, 2014 at 23:51

Yes there is a petition on Avaaz but it’s only aiming for 7,500 signatures.
It needs more, and I’m sure it could got more – aim high!!

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Barry November 5, 2014 at 11:38

The sell off has already started 64 acres of Forest/Wood is up for sale in Brentwood, Essex and is under offer. Baroness Kramer admits the sell off of Government land would raise money and encourage the building of more houses/

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