Environment 

What are the headlines for environment and energy? 

The Chancellor said in advance: “no giveaways, no gimmicks” and there weren’t any on the environmental and energy front. 

Many of the following measures were anticipated:

  • Oil and gas: Following a global drop in oil prices, the Chancellor announced tax breaks for North Sea oil companies including:
    • a further cut to the supplementary charge levied on North Sea oil producers from 30% to 20% backdated to the beginning of January;
    • a single “generous” tax allowance to stimulate investment, from the start of next month;
    • investment in new seismic surveys in under- explored areas of the continental shelf; and
    • petroleum revenue tax to be cut by 15% from next year.
  • Strengthening of the UK’s energy supply in both the short and the longer term, such as proposed measures for competitive tendering of onshore electricity transmission infrastructure; investment in a new interconnector to Belgium; negotiations to start on a Contract for Differences for Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon to explore the potential of tidal lagoon energy and consult on planning notification arrangements for the deep geothermal sector to bring them in line with oil and gas planning applications.
  • Help with flood defences including further measures to support a 6-year investment programme and tax relief for contributions to flood defences.
  • No major changes to environmental and energy taxes but a handful of measures to promote the Government’s commitment to increase the proportion of revenue from environmental taxes which include a proposed reform of the Landfill Communities Fund (the saving from the LCF will be used to fund a one off £4.2 million increase in Environment Agency funding to address waste crime) and enhanced capital allowances for a revised list of energy-saving technologies (the list is due to be revised in summer 2015).
  • Help for energy-intensive manufacturers to reduce energy costs – compensation for the indirect costs of small scale feed in tariffs from 2016-17. 

Are there any surprises? 

Not particularly – the Chancellor firmly believes that we are on the right path and need to “Keep Calm and Carry On”. From an environmental perspective he has focussed on relatively undramatic but solid measures to improve energy efficiency and resource independence. 

Planning 

What are the headlines for planning? 

The Chancellor announced several measures in Budget 2015 which are aimed at speeding up the delivery of housing, regeneration and infrastructure through the planning system. 

They include: 

Housing

  • The Government’s Housing Zones initiative has been extended to 20 new sites outside of London. These are areas where delivery of housing on brownfield land will be simplified and quickened through a package of financial and technical assistance. The Treasury estimates that the new zones could deliver c. 34,000 new homes. A further 8 sites have been shortlisted.
  • At Northstowe in Cambridgeshire, the Government will initiate a joint venture with the private sector to lead development of this new settlement; it expects 75% of new homes to be built under direct contract with the public sector.
  • In relation to the garden city initiative at Ebbsfleet, the Government will consult on a specification to deliver the master plan for Ebbsfleet. It will also work with the Ebbsfleet Urban Development Corporation (UDC) to prioritise a list of infrastructure needs for Ebbsfleet; the UDC is expected to be operational next month after the Deregulation Bill receives Royal Assent. The Government also confirmed its support for Bicester, Basingstoke and North Northants to be developed as “garden towns” and will make capacity funding available to those authorities.
  • The Government is committed to releasing public sector land with capacity for up to 150,000 homes between 2015 and 2020.
  • The Government will implement a Housing Finance Institute, looking at the role of local authorities in housing supply.
  • On shared ownership housing, the Government has asked the Homes and Communities Agency to streamline the sales process for shared ownership properties in outright ownership and separately will launch a wider review into the shared ownership model.

Infrastructure and Economic Growth

  • The Government will extend existing Enterprise Zones and establish new ones to maintain and promote economic growth.
  • Building on existing initiatives such as devolution to Manchester and Sheffield and the establishment of Transport for the North, the Government has announced further measures around the theme of building a Northern Powerhouse. These include various funding packages, further devolution to the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and piloting a scheme in Greater Manchester and Cheshire East to enable the retention of 100% of any additional business rate growth, starting in April 2015. The Chancellor also confirmed that Transport for the North would shortly publish an interim report, building on the concept of developing a network of high quality rail connections across the north (“HS3”) and proposals for investment in other strategic transport initiatives.
  • The Government will consult in the next Parliament on bringing planning notification arrangements for deep geothermal energy into line with those for onshore oil and gas planning applications.
  • The Government has launched a consultation into changes to the compulsory purchase regime to make it “clearer, faster and fairer”. This includes: new guidance which among other things encourages the offer of higher levels of compensation to secure early settlement of claims; extending powers of entry for surveying land; streamlining and imposing target timescales for examination and confirmation of compulsory purchase orders; reforming High Court challenges to orders; extending and harmonising notice of entry periods; clearer and earlier arrangements for advanced payments of compensation; improved interest rates on outstanding compensation; transfer of mortgages where residential dwellings are acquired to avoid negative equity; extending powers to override easements and restrictive covenants; changes to claims for material detriment in cases of part-acquisition of land.

London

  • In support of the proposed London Land Commission (LLC) the Government is committing £1 million of funding to support the LLC in producing a comprehensive database of public sector land and mapping of brownfield land in London.
  • The Government is intending to consult on devolving planning powers to the Mayor of London over sightlines and wharves in London.
  • The Government has committed £97 million of funding and agreed to ring fencing a 50% local share of business rate growth to support the London Borough of Barnet and the Greater London Authority in their plans for the regeneration of Brent Cross. This includes 7,500 new homes and 4.9 million sq ft of new commercial development, with 27,000 jobs.
  • The Government will provide a £7 million support package for the Croydon Growth Zone (4,000 homes and 10,000 jobs).