Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a multi-billion-pound ‘New Deal for Britain’ which prioritises jobs and infrastructure growth in response to the devastating financial impact the Covid-19 pandemic, using this crisis to tackle unresolved challenges of the last three decades.
Despite months of lobbying, the environment featured very little in the announcement, with the focus on building homes, to fix the NHS, to tackle the skills crisis, to mend the gap in opportunity and productivity and connectivity between the regions of the UK, to unite and level up.
The Government has pledged to build back better, build back greener, build back faster and to invest in and accelerate infrastructure across the UK; promote a clean, green recovery; reform the planning system; and strengthen the Union and local government. However, the commitments being made to achieve these pledges are far from clear.
Details of the Government pledges are below by sector.
- £1.5bn this year for hospital maintenance, eradicating mental health dormitories, enabling hospital building, and improving A&E capacity.
- £100m this year for 29 projects to improve our road network to get Britain moving,
- £10m for development work to unblock the Manchester rail bottleneck, which will begin this year.
- Over £1bn to fund the first 50 projects of a new, ten-year school rebuilding programme, starting from 2020-21.
- £560m and £200m for repairs and upgrades to schools and FE colleges respectively this year.
- £142mn for digital upgrades and maintenance to around 100 courts this year, £83m for maintenance of prisons and youth offender facilities, and £60m for temporary prison places, creating thousands of new jobs.
- £900m for a range of ‘shovel ready’ local growth projects in England over the course of this year and next to include the development and regeneration of key local sites, investment to improve transport and digital connectivity, and innovation and technology centres.
- £96m to accelerate investment in town centres and high streets through the Towns Fund this year to spend on projects such as improvements to parks, high streets, and transport.
- The ‘Project Speed’ taskforce will aim to cut down the time it takes to develop, design and deliver vital infrastructure projects including the 40 new hospitals the government has committed to build and the school rebuilding programme detailed above.
- £10m of funding will be made available immediately for the first wave of innovative R&D projects to scale-up manufacturing of the latest technology in batteries, motors, electronics, and fuel cells.
- This is in addition to the £1bn+ pledged to support the rollout of ultra-low emission vehicles in the UK via support for a super-fast charging network for electric vehicles, and extension of the Plug-In Grant schemes.
- The UK will also aim to produce the world’s first zero emission long haul passenger aircraft.
The Natural Infrastructure:
- Re-foresting Britain by planting 75,000 acres of trees every year by 2025.
- £40m Green Recovery Challenge Fund to help halt biodiversity loss and tackle climate change through local conservation projects, connecting more people to the outdoors by delivering up to 5,000 jobs.
- Up to £100m of new funding for research and develop a brand-new clean technology, Direct Air Capture (DAC), which captures CO2 emissions directly from the air.
- To help bring forward this technology, the government is exploring options around carbon pricing and incentives, where the government may pay a price per tonne of CO2 captured.
Reforming the Planning System:
- Greater freedom for buildings and land in town centres to change use without planning permission and create new homes from the regeneration of vacant and redundant buildings.
- Existing commercial properties, including newly vacant shops, can be converted into residential housing.
- Builders will no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes
- Property owners will be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation.
- A £12bn affordable homes programme that will support up to 180,000 new affordable homes for ownership and rent over the next 8 years, confirmed today.
- 1,500-unit pilot of ‘First Homes’: houses that will be sold to first time buyers at a 30% discount which will remain in perpetuity, keeping them affordable for generations of families to own.
With reference to promoting a clean, green recovery, the announcement failed to commit to any specific actions but merely stated that it intends to deliver a stronger, cleaner, more sustainable economy after this pandemic and will continue to set out further measures as part of its green agenda in the run up to COP26 in November 2021.
The Chancellor will unveil more of the plan on Wednesday 8 July and we await, alongside all parties lobbying for a cleaner, greener recovery, to see if the commitment to this is forthcoming.