The UK Infrastructure Bank Bill is making it’s way through Parliament. The aim of the bill is to place the UK Infrastructure Bank (currently operating on an interim basis) on a statutory footing.
The purpose of the bank is to invest in infrastructure that will tackle climate change and support regional and local economic growth. It’s an excellent proposition and an opportunity to make sure that those strategic objectives, both environmental and levelling up, are well considered and clearly stated.
The Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on 11 May 2022. Second reading took place on 24 May 2022 and yesterday, 14th June 2022, we had Committee Stage, which is when myself and colleagues in the House of Lords make suggestions (put forward amendments) intended to improve the bill. I have put forward several amendments that deal specifically with environmental issues, they are: promoting nature based solutions, clean air, green spaces, energy efficiency and energy security.
Nature Based Solutions
Currently the bill states that infrastructure projects should focus on “technologies and facilities relating to … climate change”. I have tabled an amendment – number 15 – which would insert nature based solutions in this definition.
I rise to speak to Amendment 15 in my name, which simply seeks to insert “nature- based solutions” in the definition of infrastructure in the Bill. For every £1 invested in peatland restoration there is a return of £4.60, and for every £1 invested in woodland there is a return of £2.80. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that in both examples that is a multiple greater than what the bank is seeking to get as set out in its aspirations?Lord Holmes of Richmond, House of Lords, 14 June 2022
Extending the scope of the bill to explicitly highlight nature based solutions would highlight the many advantages. Nature based solutions to climate change offer economic and social benefits alongside the obvious environmental. In addition to the returns listed above relating to peatlands and woodlands, restoring the coastal environment could deliver £50 billion by 2050 and create 100,000+ jobs. We looked closely at this with the Science and Technology Committee, findings and recommendations are published in our report, Nature-based solutions: rhetoric or reality? – The potential contribution of nature-based solutions to net zero in the UK
Another of my amendments would extend the scope of the banks objectives and activities to include clean air.
There could barely be a greater piece, a more significant piece, of infrastructure than clean air. Air in so many parts of this city and cities across the UK is actually killing our citizens.Lord Holmes of Richmond, House of Lords, 14 June 2022
If the bank’s objectives are so clearly set as economic then clean air fits within that. If we want our citizens, at whatever age or whatever stage they are at, to be fit, happy, healthy and able to develop and deploy all their talents, what they breathe could barely be more significant.
Another amendment I have proposed is the inclusion of green space in infrastructure projects.
Green spaces, what this amendment does, is put a duty on all infrastructure investments from the bank to have an element of green spaces as part of urban and suburban areas for the benefit of all—and, indeed, for the benefit of that investment itself.Lord Holmes of Richmond, House of Lords, 14 June 2022
This amendment actually goes to both the environmental and levelling-up points. Potentially, if we get this right and the government accept this amendment, there would be £200 billion-worth of health benefits and 40,000 jobs; 3,500 communities would be enhanced, invigorated and enabled through having green space where currently none exists. I have included within the amendment a requirement that the bank comes back within six months and determines what percentage of any investment should go to green space—I believe that this should be somewhere between 5% and 20%.
Energy Efficiency and Energy Security
Finally I have also introduced an amendment designed to highlight the critical importance of energy efficiency and security. Many of my colleagues in the Lords agreed that it would be useful to add energy efficiency to the face of the bill and there were many excellent speeches on that point. On energy security, there could hardly be a more significant time to make the point of the UK’s need to have greater energy security, and for that to be dramatically enhanced through understanding what it means to have a more local and more environmentally sound supply.
The Bill will now go to Report Stage in the Lords and we will find out whether the Government has been persuaded by our suggestions for amending and improving this important legislation.