778: Is the Budget good for infrastructure?
Today’s entry reports on Wednesday’s Budget.
It is headlined ‘Budget 2017’ in the papers but it’s the second budget this year, there having been one in March before the election.
Here is the main Autumn Budget document – so what does it do for infrastructure planning?
Three announcements relate to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC). Hot on the heels of its publication of a final report into the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc (another acronym: CaMKOx), the government is (apparently) accepting its recommendations. I can’t find those precise words although Phillip Hammond did say in his speech:
‘Today we back their vision and commit to building up to 1 million homes by 2050’.
Most but not all of the recommendations do seem to be reflected in the Budget announcements – the Expressway complete by 2030, progress on stations at Cowley and Cambridge South, but no commitment for the full railway to open by 2030.
Secondly, the government has commissioned a new specific study for the NIC to carry out, into freight. The letter from the Chancellor and the terms of reference can be found here. This is possibly because of the upset caused in the rail freight industry by comments in the interim National Infrastructure Assessment rather dismissing rail freight in favour of ‘road trains’.
Thirdly, the NIC has announced a competition, although it will not actually be launched until the new year. It is called ‘Roads for the Future’ and is for ideas to develop a road network that is ready for driverless cars. I do love a competition so will be looking out for that one.
Before we go driverless, we’re going electric first. New money is allocated to charging infrastructure, electric vehicle purchases and research and development.
However, it’s all very well reducing pollution on the roads by encouraging electric vehicles, but if the electricity isn’t being generated cleanly then it just moves the pollution rather than eliminating it.
In that vein there is less good news. The Budget has been slammed for being the least green ever with its energy announcements (What does that make it? Magenta?). There will be no new subsidies for renewable energy until at least 2025 and no increases in carbon prices for the same period. I therefore declare a failure of joined up thinking.
Fewer incentives than expected to move away from diesel vehicles were announced (so not likely to meet air quality targets as soon as possible, then). However the heralded tax on single-use plastics did come forward in the form of a call for evidence to be launched next year.
What about planning? It was all about housing yet again, but the fire was not all directed at the planning system. Sir Oliver Letwin MP is to lead an inquiry into why land zoned for housing or with planning permission for housing is not being built out fast enough. An interim report has been ordered for the spring statement next year and the final report by next year’s (autumn) budget.
Local authorities are likely to be directed to produce local plans jointly, and I also spotted that exemptions to deemed discharge of planning conditions (a fairly new concept itself) are to be removed. The much-loved Community Infrastructure Levy is to be supplemented by a ‘Strategic Infrastructure Tariff’ or SIT (presumably calling it SIL would have been too confusing). This will be able to be raised by combined authorities and other multi-council bodies for strategic and/or local infrastructure – perhaps including nationally significant infrastructure projects then.
By the way, ‘permission’ is not a verb (see paragraph 5.9), ugh!
So as we approach a revolution in infrastructure, a mixed bag in terms of getting there.