Senedd to debate amendments to the Infrastructure Bill

Published 15/03/2024   |   Reading Time minutes

The Infrastructure (Wales) Bill has reached Stage 3 of the Senedd’s legislative process.

The Bill establishes a new process, known as an ‘Infrastructure Consent’, for specific types of major infrastructure called ‘Significant Infrastructure Projects’ (SIPs). Our resources page has more information.

Three Senedd committees scrutinised the Bill during Stage 1. 199 amendments were tabled at Stage 2.

This article summarises some of the main issues and amendments discussed during the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee’s Stage 2 consideration of amendments.

Local ownership

Adam Price MS tabled amendments that would mean electricity generation stations, defined in the Bill, would only be SIPs if they met local ownership requirements.

He argued this puts into law the Welsh Government’s existing policy that electricity generation projects should have an element of local ownership.

The Minister for Climate Change, Julie James MS, sympathised with the intent, but didn’t support the amendments. She argued the amendments wouldn’t stop proposals without community ownership coming forward, but would result in them falling to local planning authorities (LPAs) to decide. She said LPAs “struggle” to process large energy projects (due to a lack of capacity) and applications would likely end up being called in by the Welsh Ministers anyway.

The Minister agreed to work with Adam Price MS to explore how his aims could be met, so he withdrew his amendments.

Undergrounding electricity cables

Janet-Finch Saunders MS and Adam Price MS both tabled amendments that would see underground electricity cables included as SIPs, as is the case for certain overhead electricity lines.

The Minister argued Planning Policy Wales starts from a presumption that the grid should be underground wherever possible, to reduce visual impact. She said installing underground electric cables is already permitted development in many circumstances, and bringing them into the SIP regime would make them go through additional processes and increase costs.

The Minister again agreed to work with Adam Price MS, so he withdrew his amendment. The Committee did not agree Janet-Finch Saunders MS’s amendment.

Directing a project is a SIP

Janet Finch-Saunders MS tabled an amendment to remove the power for the Welsh Ministers to direct that a specified development is a SIP.

Joel James MS, speaking to the amendment, argued the power “could be misused for political advantage, allowing decisions with negative political implications to be sidestepped”. He said there should be clear criteria setting out when the power could be used, otherwise the Welsh Ministers could “pass the buck” to already overwhelmed LPAs.

The Minister cited evidence from developers supporting the ability to direct a project into the SIP regime. She argued the SIP thresholds in the Bill are a “blunt instrument” and a power to direct would stop developers “gaming the system” by designing their project to come just under a certain threshold.

The Committee did not agree the amendment.

Pre-application services

Janet-Finch Saunders MS tabled an amendment to remove the requirement for LPAs to provide pre-application services to developers, resulting in only the Welsh Ministers being required to provide these services.

The Minister said this would be detrimental to front-loading the consenting process because LPAs have detailed knowledge on specific matters at the local level. If the Welsh Ministers were to have sole responsibility for providing pre-application services, they would need to consult with LPAs to get the information anyway.

Joel James MS opposed a government amendment to include Natural Resources Wales as a body required to provide pre-application services. He said SIPs should be decided by the Welsh Ministers and cause the least possible increase in workload for other public bodies.

The Committee did not agree Janet Finch-Saunders MS’s amendment and agreed the government amendment.

Decision process

Delyth Jewell MS and Janet Finch Saunders MS both tabled amendments that would alter processes for deciding applications.

Delyth Jewell MS’s amendments would have required an “open-floor hearing” to take place in certain circumstances and removed the option of deciding an application by written representations. The aim being to increase transparency and allow a “fair hearing” to those affected.

Janet Finch Saunders MS’s amendment would have made written representations the default, unless another procedure was more appropriate. Joel James MS argued this would help redress the balance at inquiries or hearings where developers are represented by barristers and specialists, whereas communities rarely have access to such resources.

The Minister argued in favour of the flexibility in the Bill.

The Committee did not agree Janet Finch Saunders MS’s amendment. The Minister said she would be happy “to have a continued conversation” with Delyth Jewell MS on the matter of open-floor hearings. Delyth Jewell MS therefore withdrew her amendments.

Infrastructure policy statements

Janet Finch Saunders MS tabled an amendment to require the Welsh Ministers to lay any new statutory policy relating to one or more SIPs before the Senedd.

Joel James MS argued there's no parliamentary scrutiny process for the infrastructure policy statements that could come forward under the Bill. He was concerned they would take precedence over other planning policies, such as Future Wales, which have been through public consultation and Senedd scrutiny.

The Minister supported the principle of the amendment but not its drafting. She agreed to work with Janet Finch Saunders MS on the wording ahead of Stage 3. The amendment was withdrawn.

Climate change

Delyth Jewel MS tabled an amendment to create a duty to have regard to mitigating and adapting to climate change in determining an application for infrastructure consent.

The Minster noted that taking account of climate change is already a feature of existing planning policies, the goals of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. But she was happy to support the amendment nonetheless.

The Committee agreed the amendment.

Time period for deciding an application

Jenny Rathbone MS tabled an amendment to ensure that, if the Welsh Ministers extend the 52-week time period for deciding a SIP application, they must lay a statement before the Senedd to notify Members of the decision and the reason for it.

The Minister supported the amendment saying “where the 52-week limit is breached, the responding Minister ought very rightly to be in front of the Senedd explaining what exactly has gone wrong, because the Bill puts a duty on the Ministers and their officials to do that in that time period.”

The Committee agreed the amendment.


Janet Finch-Saunders MS tabled an amendment to take responsibility for enforcement away from LPAs. Joel James MS argued LPAs are under-resourced and the Welsh Ministers should be responsible for enforcement of a regime they have introduced.

The Minister recognised the concerns over LPA resources but argued LPAs held detailed local knowledge and already carried out enforcement around projects that would in future be consented through the new SIP regime, via existing processes.

The Committee did not agree the amendment.

Net biodiversity gain

Delyth Jewell MS tabled an amendment to introduce a new regulation-making power that would make it a requirement to support biodiversity net gain for specific types of infrastructure projects.

The Minister argued there’s an existing duty under the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 to maintain and enhance biodiversity and to support ecosystem resilience. She said Planning Policy Wales promotes the concept of biodiversity 'net benefit', which is more holistic than net gain.

The Minster offered to work with the Delyth Jewell MS to bring forward a revised amendment at Stage 3. Delyth Jewell MS therefore withdrew her amendment.

Stage 3 proceedings take place in Plenary on 19 March.

Watch live on Senedd TV.

Article by Elfyn Henderson, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament