In his Autumn Statement, George Osborne has again made it clear that one of the Government's priorities is investing "more for the long term in capital infrastructure", which it sees as key to building and sustaining a more productive economy; in fact the Autumn Statement refers to it as 'Economic Infrastructure'.
The Government is committed to investing in Britain's Future. The Autumn Statement confirms that it will invest in roads, the sciences, flood defences and energy infrastructure. With private investment being key to delivering the infrastructure the Autumn Statement confirmed that the government is extending the availability of the £40 billion UK Guarantees Scheme to March 2021 to continue to help infrastructure projects raise finance from banks and the capital markets.
Further planning reforms are included with the 'Five Point Plan' for home ownership. We have summarised below key announcements on infrastructure and planning.
Opportunities for home ownership and further planning reforms
The Treasury had indicated that the Chancellor would unveil "the biggest affordable housebuilding programme since the 1970s". Today's announcements included a 'Five Point Plan for housing. Firstly, the doubling of the housing budget to over £2 billion per year and a commitment to deliver, with government help, 400,000 affordable new homes by 2020/21.
Secondly, delivery on the manifesto commitment to extend the Right to Buy to housing association tenants which would begin with a pilot for tenants of 5 housing associations commencing at midnight 25 November 2015.
- A commitment to deliver 400,000 affordable housing starts by 2020/21, "focussed on low cost home ownership"
- 200,000 'Starter Homes' to be offered at a 20% discount on prices up to £450,000 in London and £250,000 elsewhere. The policy was first announced in October 2014. Additionally, £2.3bn for developers to deliver of up to 60,000 of these
- 135,000 brand new "Help to Buy: Shared Ownership" homes for households earning less than £80,000 (or £90,000 in London) by 2020-21. Government will also relax and remove previous restrictions such as local authorities’ rights to set additional eligibility criteria
- 10,000 new homes that tenants can live in for five years at reduced rents while they save for a deposit. This will be in addition to 50,000 affordable homes from existing commitments
- 8,000 specialist homes for older people or those with disabilities
The scale of the programme of house building would require all sectors to play a role in delivery and the government will remove constraints that prevent private sector organisations from participating in delivery of these programmes, including the constraints to bidding for government funding.
Thirdly, accelerating supply through further planning reforms including:
- A new delivery test on local authorities, to ensure delivery against the number of homes set out in local plans
- The government will ensure that local communities can allocate land for housing through neighbourhood plans, even if that land is not allocated in the local plan
- Supporting the availability of appropriate land for housing, including by releasing public sector land with capacity for 160,000 homes
- Amending planning policy to ensure the release of unused and previously undeveloped commercial, retail and industrial land for Starter Homes, and support regeneration of previously developed, brownfield sites in the greenbelt, by allowing them to be developed in the same way as brownfield sites elsewhere, providing it delivers Starter Homes. This will be subject to local consultation, such as through neighbourhood plans
- Amending planning policy to support small sites, extending the £1 billion Builders’ Finance Fund to 2020-21. The government will halve the length of the planning guarantee and amend planning policy to support small sites, while ensuring protection for existing gardens
- Offering £2.3 billion in loans to help regenerate large council estates and invest in infrastructure needed for major housing developments.
- Investing £310 million to deliver the first new garden city at Ebbsfleet as part of a wider £700 million programme of regeneration at Barking Riverside, Brent Cross, Northstowe and Bicester Garden Town.
- Bring forward proposals for a more standardised approach to viability assessments, and extend the ability to appeal against unviable section 106 agreements to 2018.
- To support decision-making in line with local plans and the principles in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the government will bring forward proposals to strengthen the performance regime, by lowering the threshold for the quality of decisions to 10% of all major decisions overturned on appeal. Wider circumstances, such as the status of the local plan and whether appeals relate to this, will be taken into account.
- The government will review the operation of the deemed discharge of planning conditions.
Fourthly, an announcement to extend the Help to Buy: Equity Loan scheme to 2021 and create a London Help to Buy scheme, offering a 40% equity loan in recognition of the higher housing costs in the capital.
Fifthly, Higher rates of Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) will be charged on purchases of additional residential properties, such as buy to let properties and second homes, with effect from 1 April 2016.
The Autumn Statement confirms that the government will publish a National Infrastructure Delivery Plan in spring 2016. This will set out in detail how the government will deliver key projects and programmes over the next 5 years.
The Department for Transport’s operational budget will fall by 37% but transport capital spending will increase by 50% to a total of £61 billion. The Chancellor said that this "will fund the largest road investment programme since the 1970s. For we are the builders."
He said that this would mean that the construction of HS2 to link the Northern Powerhouse to the South can begin and the electrification of lines like the Trans-Pennine, Midland Main Line and Great Western can go ahead.
Summarised below are the some of the announcements on infrastructure that were in today's Autumn Statement.
Roads and rail
- Increases transport investment by 50% to £61 billion over the Parliament.
- Second Roads Investment Strategy to be published before the end of this Parliament setting out how the Roads Fund will be invested.
- Increased spending on roads maintenance.
- Support for large local transport projects, enabling local areas to bid for funding for projects that would be too expensive for them to pay for by themselves.
- A new Transport Development Fund, for the next generation of transport infrastructure projects.
Further details will be confirmed following advice from the recently established National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) at Budget 2016 and may include funds for Crossrail 2 and proposals emerging from the Northern Transport Strategy.
The 'Devolution Revolution'
The Autumn Statement sets out the government commitment to "nothing less than a devolution revolution". Local leaders will have new powers to take responsibility for driving local growth including "allowing them to retain their business rates, agreeing historic devolution deals, creating powerful new metro-mayors, and making further targeted investments in response to local priorities."
Included is the announcement that local government will be transformed, enabling it to be self-sufficient by the end of the Parliament and paving the way for 100% business rate retention.
The devolution revolution also has a clear infrastructure focus and the Autumn Statement included announcements on devolution across the UK including Northern Ireland, a Regional Air Connectivity Fund to support new air routes, new South Western rail franchise and an in principle commitment to contribute to an infrastructure fund for the Cardiff region.
Summarised below are some of the key announcements on local government reform and devolution to the regions.
Local government reform
- DCLG consultation on changes to the local government finance system to pave the way for the implementation of 100% business rate retention by the end of the Parliament.
- DCLG to set out details on measures to allow local authorities to spend up to 100% of their fixed asset receipts (excluding Right to Buy receipts) on the revenue costs of reform projects to deliver more efficient and sustainable services.
- Strengthening the existing legislation around 'Right to Contest' to allow local communities to challenge the use of land and property that is in use by local authorities, not just property that is empty or under-used, where these assets could be made surplus and put to better use.
- Work towards further devolution deals with other major city regions.
- The Greater Manchester Mayor will be given the power to introduce a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL).
- In addition to those announced earlier this year, 26 new Enterprise Zones, including expanding 8 Zones on the current programme. These include 15 Zones in smaller towns and rural areas, spreading Enterprise Zone benefits to 108 sites across the country.
- Transport for the North (TfN) will produce a regional implementation plan for smart and integrated ticketing across local transport and rail services, working in partnership with the Department for Transport (DfT), by Budget 2016
- Upcoming publication of TfN’s interim report and the introduction into Parliament this month of legislation to put TfN on a statutory footing by 2017.
- Funding through the Regional Air Connectivity Fund to support new air routes promoting domestic and international connectivity to include new routes from Newcastle to Norwich; from Carlisle to Belfast, Dublin and Southend; and from Leeds Bradford to Newquay
- Support for small modular reactor development and wider nuclear R&D, creating opportunities for the North’s centres of nuclear excellence in Sheffield City Region, Greater Manchester and Cumbria, as well as the nuclear research base across the UK
- Establishment of a Shale Wealth Fund from up to 10% of shale tax revenues anticipated to invest up to £1 billion in the North and other shale producing areas over the next 25 years.
- Government will work with the Midlands to develop a long term transport strategy for the region through the creation of a new Midlands Connect Strategic Board. Members will include the DfT, Highways England, Network Rail, HS2 Ltd and local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships from across the Midlands
- West Midlands Rail and DfT will jointly launch a public consultation in December 2015 on the competition for the new West Midlands rail franchise.
- Funding from the new £475 million Local Majors Fund for projects such as the North Devon Link Road and the A391 in Cornwall
- New air routes from Newquay to Leeds Bradford and from Exeter to Norwich
- Launching the competition on the new South Western rail franchise and DfT will work with the Peninsula Rail Task Force and other local stakeholders in the South West to publish a report next year with options for creating a dedicated new franchise for Devon and Cornwall
- New Enterprise Zones in the Heart of the South West, Dorset Green and extending existing Enterprise Zones in Bristol (Bristol Temple Quarter and Somer Valley) and Cornwall/Isles of Scilly (Aerohub+).
South East and East of England
- Funding for local major transport projects and confirmation that funding for the Norwich Northern Distributor Road has been approved
- New air routes including from Southampton, Oxford, Norwich and Southend
- 4 new Enterprise Zones in Newhaven, Aylesbury Vale, Didcot Growth Accelerator and Enterprise M3, and extending the North Kent Innovation Zone
- 4 new Enterprise Zones will be created in Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Luton and across Great Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk) while the existing Great Yarmouth & Lowestoft Enterprise Zone will be extended.
Climate Change and Energy
In a separate statement to the stock market the Government announced that a £1bn competition to develop Britain's first carbon capture and storage (CCS) power plant has been scrapped.
The statement comes shortly before the start of international climate change talks in Paris, and alongside the Autumn Statement which said that the government will continue to push for a strong global climate change agreement in Paris in December.
The Autumn Statement makes it clear that the government will prioritise energy security, whilst making reforms to meet our climate goals at lower cost. It will double spend on energy innovation to boost energy security and bring down the costs of decarbonisation.
The government will double spend on energy innovation and investment in a nuclear research and development programme including on small modular reactors (SMRs).
The Autumn Statement also reveals that the government will shortly publish a response to the consultations on the Renewables Obligation (RO) and Feed in Tariffs (FiTs) schemes. The response will set out how to implement cost control on these schemes and if the proposals are implemented.
A summary of the announcements is set out below.
- Measures to reduce the projected cost of green policies on the average annual household energy bill by £30 from 2017. The bulk of these savings will come from reforms to the current Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme. This will be replaced from April 2017 with a new cheaper domestic energy efficiency supplier obligation which will run for 5 years
- A competition to identify the best value SMR design for the UK to pave the way towards building one of the world’s first SMRs in the UK in the 2020s. Detailed plans for the competition will be brought forward early in 2016
- An exemption for Energy Intensive Industries, including the steel industry, from the policy costs of the RO and FiTs
- Increased funding for the Renewable Heat Incentive while also reforming the scheme to deliver better value for money
- Funding over 5 years to improve the energy efficiency of schools, hospitals and other public sector buildings, and separately, funding for up to 200 heat networks.
- Up to 10% of shale gas tax revenues committed to a Shale Wealth Fund, which could deliver up to £1 billion of investment in local communities hosting shale gas developments, in the north of England and other shale-producing regions
- Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) to continue until 2021. The Government intends to reform the scheme and will announce changes in due course
- All energy generation to be excluded from Venture Capital Schemes
- Additional powers for the Oil and Gas Authority to scrutinise companies’ offshore decommissioning plans and take action to ensure they represent value for money.
- DECC departmental savings of 22% by 2019-20 delivered through efficiencies in corporate services and reducing the cost of contracts.