In what could be his last attempt to save the S.S. Tory Party from sinking, the Chancellor outlined a raft of new measures and cuts to ease the tax burden on the public and stimulate economic growth looking forward to 2024 and the run up to the next general election. These included measures to reform planning, boost housing supply and deliver more infrastructure.
The most significant announcement for planning was the intention to introduce a “fast-track” application process for major commercial applications. Whilst this announcement was generally welcomed, resourcing remains an issue. In the absence of any substantial funding commitments (the £32 million that has been promised does not add up to much when divided across all local planning authorities) and potential reimbursements for applicants who have not been fast tracked, it is difficult to see how local authorities will be able to deliver this service. As the Institute for Government has already pointed out, “short-term emergency funding pots, which make it difficult for service leaders to plan effectively and implement productivity enhancing reforms, are poor value for money”.
In respect of housing, an insecure market is a close friend to a declining, unproductive economy. To tackle this, the Chancellor announced a host of new funding commitments to help boost housebuilding and ‘level-up’ forgotten regions. An extra £450 million has been allocated to the Local Authority Housing Fund to deliver 2,400 new homes to house refugees and the homeless. The ‘Brownfield First’ approach has been strongly endorsed as the most sustainable way to deliver new homes. To this end the Chancellor promised a further investment of £150 million to be invested into Leeds, Cambridge and London to unlock housing on brownfield sites using the Brownfield, Infrastructure and Land Fund. However, these measures remain reliant on the private sector meeting housing targets with little increase in public investment.
Restrictions around nutrient neutrality and other sustainability measures have been characterised as planning’s ‘bogeymen’ in recent years, with these policies bearing the brunt of the blame for the backlog of planning applications that are required to help ease the housing crisis. Consequently, an extra £110 million of funding will be provided to support local authorities to deliver high quality schemes to offset nutrient pollution. This follows the thwarted attempt to include measures to unblock the backlog in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. Questions have been raised whether the funding is sufficient and the HBF claims this amounts to a “sticking plaster over a gaping wound”.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought the shortfalls of the UK’s energy security into the spotlight. Reliance on energy sources from overseas can no longer be guaranteed and consequently the Government is looking to increase domestic energy production. Further funding, therefore, will be released for development of more offshore wind farms in conjunction with the Crown Estate as well as additional investment to bolster the UK’s carbon capture capabilities and to assist businesses in transitioning to the use of more energy efficient and low-carbon technologies. Given the problem of soaring energy prices, it was surprising to see such low investment into measures to reduce emissions. America and the EU, by contrast, are inputting much higher levels of funding into the energy transition away from fossil fuels.
The Autumn Statement accordingly provided some impressive fireworks on first reading but little long-term illumination. The success of the proposed measures for the built-environment hinges on their effective implementation and without more public sector investment and resourcing there are doubts around delivery.