LANDOWNERS need more protection from “powerful multinationals” undertaking energy infrastructure projects on their property, a former Tory trade minister has said.

Dr Liam Fox told the House of Commons that the resolution system between National Grid and landowners for new energy infrastructure projects is “not adequate” and needs changing.

The North Somerset MP said one of his constituents had been left feeling “effectively powerless in a stand-off with one of the world’s most powerful multinationals” and called on the UK Government to create a “means of resolving these disputes in a way that is clear, affordable, fair and enforceable”.

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Fox told the Commons: “This debate is about natural justice. Where disputes arise, we cannot have powerful multinationals being the judge and jury of the compensation that our constituents may or may not get in a dispute.”

He said the upgrading of the electricity transmission network is “necessary”, but added: “Farmers and homeowners, local communities and individuals should expect to have their rights and interests protected while this programme unfolds, and to be treated fairly and equitably when disputes arise.”

He was speaking as he introduced his Electricity and Gas Transmission (Compensation) Bill in the Commons, which seeks action to develop a new mechanism to solve disputes.

Fox described to MPs a constituency case where a dispute had arisen over National Grid having access to and seeking to build on a homeowner’s property.

He said: “The feeling of being effectively powerless in a stand-off with one of the world’s most powerful multinationals has left them with a level of fear and anxiety which I leave the House to imagine.

“Where disputes arise between one of the world’s most powerful companies and our constituents, it is essential that we have the means of resolving these disputes in a way that is clear, affordable, fair and enforceable.”

And he said currently when decisions go against National Grid “their response is all too typically to challenge individuals, to take them to the upper tribunal, with a potentially huge new tranche of expense”.

He said he wanted the Bill to be kept “deliberately simple” at the second reading stage “to enable us to reach agreement on the specific mechanisms that can be incorporated at later stages as the Bill progresses through Parliament”.

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Responding, business minister Nusrat Ghani said she would work with the former minister on the Bill.

She said: “I hope that members will agree that alternative dispute resolutions should be encouraged. The Government is prepared to work with (Dr Fox) to develop the best solution to this issue and we look forward to working with him through the committee stage.”

Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds questioned the impact of the Bill, telling the Commons: “I think he will forgive me for saying in the 12 years I have been in Parliament I have often seen particularly Conservative colleagues have very strong opposition to housing developments, to energy infrastructure, to HS2, to rail.

“So it is important to get to the crux of the matter which is: is this about resolving things more quickly for people, or would it further delay the system?”

Tory MP Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) gave his backing to the Bill, and claimed landowners should be offered “more than 100%” compensation for infrastructure projects on their land to ensure they are built quickly.

He added: “That is the way they get things built in France, they make sure the people who are affected are not only made whole, but actually get some acknowledgement and compensation of the disruption it causes when you either have your land concreted over completely, or you have to sell your house if you are subject to compulsory purchase.

“We don’t work with the grain of people enough in this country, whether it comes to housing or infrastructure.”

The Bill was given an unopposed second reading and will face further scrutiny in the Commons at a later date.

A National Grid spokesperson said: "We work with tens of thousands of landowners to deliver this critical infrastructure and where we need access to private land we work hard to reach voluntary agreements.

"In the small minority of cases where that is not possible we work closely, fairly and consistently with landowners to agree compensation and reduce the impact of our activities.  

"Any compensation agreed is in accordance with existing legislation. As compensation payments are ultimately included on consumer energy bills this legislation aims to ensure consistency across the country and reassures consumers that justifiable, evidence-based levels are paid. 

"The government's net zero target means greater levels of energy infrastructure is required and we welcome the opportunity to work with Dr Fox and the government on any amendments to the compensation legislation”."

We previously told how Fox received a £20,000 donation earlier this year from a Covid-19 testing company that he reportedly contacted the former health secretary over.