Japanese Knotweed growing over a fence

Infrastructure Act 2015 - Legislation reinforces need to tackle Japanese knotweed

The Infrastructure Act 2015 was received Royal Assent on 12 February 2015.

It gives regulators even greater powers against those landowners unlucky enough to own land affected by invasive species such as Japanese knotweed. Prior to this Act, it was perfectly legal to have invasive species on your land, as long as you didn't allow it to spread to land owned by others. The Home Office recently issued guidance to say that ASBO legislation could be used to force landowners to control or eradicate invasive species such as Japanese knotweed. I have made my views known on the use of ASBO legislation in relation to Japanese knotweed on previous blogs.

However, I do believe the measures within the Infrastructure Act are proportionate and will be a useful stick in the battle to stop the spread of this hugely invasive weed. We see so many large tracts of unused land where Japanese knotweed is left to its own devices, spreading further and further. It seems to me that with land ownership comes responsibility, and this new power enables the regulators to enforce that responsibility.

For those of you who like the detail, I'd like to thank lawyer Rodger Burnett of Japanese Knotweed Claims Ltd – www.japaneseknotweedclaims.com for preparing and allowing us to reproduce the following extract:

What is a Species control order (SCO)?

In general terms, a species control order (SCO) requires a landowner (or the tenant under a lease) to control the invasive non native species (INNS) on their land and failure to comply with the SCO is a criminal offence. The Infrastructure Act 2015 amends the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (WCA 1981) to introduce a new Schedule 9A that contains provisions for a new system of SCOs in England and Wales to control INNS that pose serious threats to:

a.            Biodiversity.

b.            Other environmental interests.

c.            Social or economic interests.

A species is defined in the Act as being non-native if:

a.            It is listed in Schedule 9 of the WCA 1981.

b.            In the case of a species of animal, it is not ordinarily resident in, or a regular visitor to, Great Britain in a wild state.

Schedule 9A provides a staged process as follows:

1.            The environmental authorities should first seek a voluntary agreement, a species control agreement (SCA), with the landowner that requires the landowner to control the INNS.

2.            Before entering into an SCA with an owner, an environmental authority must be satisfied that:

a. the provisions of the agreement are proportionate to the objective to be achieved; and

b. in a case where there is more than one owner, the owner with whom the SCA is entered into is the most appropriate one.

3.            Where an SCA cannot be reached with the landowner to control the INNS on their land and there is a "clear and significant" threat from inaction, Schedule 9A will give the relevant bodies powers:

a. to compel landowners to control the INNS by making an SCO; and

b. of entry for surveillance or to carry out works to get rid of the INNS.

4.            Failure to comply with an SCO, or obstruction of the environmental authority, will be a criminal offence punishable on summary conviction in the magistrates' court to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 51 weeks, or a fine, or both.

The Infrastructure Act provides that the following "environmental authorities" will be entitled to enter into SCAs and make SCOs:

In England:

  • The Secretary of State;
  • Natural England;
  • the Environment Agency (EA); and
  • the Forestry Commissioners.

In Wales:

  • the Welsh Ministers; and
  • Natural Resources Wales (NRW).

Schedule 9A provides that an environmental authority is not liable for anything it does under the SCA or SCO to any person with an interest in the premises, other than the owner with whom the SCA has been agreed or on whom the SCO has been imposed.

So as you can see these are far reaching powers, watch this space .... We'll report back once we hear of the first case of enforcement using these new special powers. 

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