On Thursday 17th November, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt announced his Autumn Statement, setting out what he described as a “plan for stability, growth and public services”.
But what proposals were set out in the statement that were of relevance to those working with transport planning and infrastructure design consultants, and which Mr Hunt said would enable the UK to “face into the storm” of the global energy, inflation, and economic crisis?
Mr Hunt announced that with regard to infrastructure, there would be no reduction in capital budgets over the next two years, and that the construction of new infrastructure would be safeguarded by capital investment exceeding £600 billion over the next half-decade.
Major infrastructure projects to which the Government signalled its commitment included HS2 to Manchester, East-West Rail, and Project Gigabit.
Prospects for the housing market leading up to the Autumn Statement unsurprisingly mirrored the difficult picture presented by the UK’s broader economic downturn.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has estimated that there will be a 9% decrease in house prices between the last three months of this year and the corresponding period of 2024, with significantly higher mortgage rates likely to be a driving factor.
The OBR further forecasted that as the economy recovered, house prices would increase slightly quicker than nominal incomes from 2025.
Looking forward with regard to housing, the Government has said that it will protect capital spending, with the Capital Budget of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) set to be maintained at £6.9 billion from 2023-24, and at £6.8 billion from 2024-25.
With regard to energy efficiency, the Chancellor announced the establishment of an energy efficiency taskforce to help achieve 15% lower energy consumption from UK buildings and industry by the end of this decade. Alongside this, Mr Hunt said a new £6 billion would be made available to support energy efficiency in the period from 2025 to 2028, adding to the existing £6.6 billion pot available in the current Parliament.
The Autumn Statement only mentioned planning reform in the context of infrastructure delivery. The Government has promised to update the planning system to allow for the rapid delivery of infrastructure through sector-specific interventions, prioritising transport, energy, and water.
Mr Hunt said that although Investment Zones would stay in principle, they would take a different form. The Government will not take forward existing expressions of interest, and it will instead reframe the policy. This will involve a “limited number of high potential clusters”, as part of a more targeted approach to extracting local areas’ research strengths and concentrating on universities to help boost these clusters. The Zones will be focused on left-behind parts of the UK, and are expected to be driven in close collaboration with mayors and other local leaders.
The Statement document said that DLUHC would “work closely with mayors, devolved administrations, local authorities, businesses and other local partners to consider how best to identify and support these clusters, driving growth while maintaining high environmental standards.”
Mr Hunt said that the first decisions on Investment Zones would be announced prior to the Budget in the spring of 2023, and signalled that on this occasion, there would not be an application process.
However, the Government’s efforts to reform the planning system hit a snag in the week following the Autumn Statement, when it faced a rebellion by Conservative MPs urging an end to mandatory housebuilding targets. More than 40 backbenchers and former cabinet ministers signed an amendment to the flagship Levelling-up Bill that would ban local authorities from taking housing targets into account when deciding on planning applications.
The Government responded by pulling a vote on the bill, with it being suggested that the Prime Minister may need to compromise with the rebels by scrapping local housing targets if he wishes to pass the bill without having to depend on Labour votes.
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