Bidwells' Alison Wright and Jonathan Bainbridge reflect on the priorities and commitments set out in this week’s Spending Review and long-awaited National Infrastructure Strategy, and highlight what they mean for the planning and development sector.
The Spending Review set out the Government’s departmental budgets for 2021-22 and prioritised funding to support the UK’s recovery from Covid-19. Within this, there were some significant announcements for the development industry.
Summary of Key Points:
- £7.1bn for a National Home Building Fund, and a reconfirmed £12.2bn for the Affordable Housing Programme, using a simplified planning system to “ensure beautiful homes are built where they are needed most”
- An additional £100m for non-Mayoral Combined Authorities to support housing delivery and regeneration of brownfield sites to deliver housing
- An additional £12m to “take forward the government’s radical planning reform agenda”. It is understood that the funding is 2021-22 “resource funding”
- £4m towards the Oxford-Cambridge Arc programme, building on the Government’s commitments to accelerate housing and infrastructure delivery. This will support a new spatial framework for the sub-region and up to four new development corporations
- Funding for the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, which has set out the Government’s vision to tackle climate change
- A new Levelling Up Fund worth £4 billion for England. The Fund will be cross-departmental and encompass expenditure on town centre regeneration and key local transport priorities, such as bypasses, local roads and railway station upgrades. Local areas can bid directly for projects and they must have local support and the support of their MP
The National Infrastructure Strategy
"Fairer, faster, greener” are the opening words of the 100 page National Infrastructure Strategy. Very much a politicised document with an aim of strengthening the Union, it confidently sets out that the Government will deliver upon the long-term manifesto commitment for levelling up – increasing investment in all corners of the UK covering major national projects and local priorities.
Productivity and decarbonisation are the linchpins of wide-ranging pledges across priorities of energy, transport, environment, water, climate resilience and communications – but what does this mean for the here and now?
Amongst the compilation of funding commitments old and new, the drum continues to be beaten for “addressing longstanding challenges such as complex planning processes, slow decision-making, and low productivity in the construction sector”. Adding to the reforms proposed in Planning for the Future, are:
Permitted Development for Community Infrastructure:
We can expect further reform to the Permitted Development regime to enable schools, hospitals and prisons to expand by 25% or 250 sq.m (whichever is larger) without the need for a planning permission.
To assist with the delivery of 500 school projects over the next ten years, there is also a promise to allow the replacement of existing buildings on school sites where they are not on playing fields and do not exceed six metres in height.
Streamlined Approval Processes:
In addition, where permission is needed for school, FE college, hospital and prison development; the Government will “encourage greater prioritisation” by reducing the statutory determination period to ten weeks.
Environmental Assessment Reform:
Following Brexit, Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) and Environmental Impacts Assessments (EIAs) are in the firing line. Providing a more strategic approach to the protection of habitats and species, a new framework is proposed to give clarity, remove duplication, and ensure effective and early consideration of environmental matters.
National Infrastructure Planning Reform Programme:
Building upon the existing Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime, we expect reforms to be published with an ambition to cut timelines by 50% for some projects with a renewed focus on effective engagement with infrastructure departments, statutory consultees and the Planning Inspectorate and industry.
There is clearly much more to come from this Strategy. No less than 14 additional documents are due for publication within the next three to 12 months.
The National Strategy for Disabled People
The Union Connectivity Review
The Construction Playbook
The Integrated Rail Plan
The Energy White Paper
The Net Zero Review final report
The National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline
Transforming Infrastructure Performance 2021
A transport decarbonisation plan
The English Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper
An electric vehicle charging infrastructure strategy
A heat and buildings strategy
A hydrogen strategy
An industrial decarbonisation strategy
A refreshed Industrial Strategy
Investment in infrastructure, the economy and the Government’s Green Industrial Revolution are very much welcomed and reflect the need to support the UK’s recovery from Covid-19 whilst tackling the climate change emergency.
Planning has a key role to play in unlocking the recovery, but local authorities must be given the capability and resource to make tough decisions and get on with the job. We welcome the steps taken in this week’s announcements, but the £12m “resource funding” for planning and £4m investment for the Arc is unlikely to be sufficient. We urge Government to make further resource commitments in due course.