892: What the Budget means for infrastructure
Today’s entry explores what the 3 March 2021 Budget does for infrastructure.
Much of the budget had been heralded in advance, but that was more on the fiscal side about extending furlough support, and raising corporation tax. Here is some infrastructure-related content.
UK Infrastructure Bank
Rather than a ‘National Infrastructure Bank’, it is going to be called the ‘UK Infrastructure Bank’, so the initials NIB are still available. Its location has been announced as Leeds, and the Chancellor said ‘I know my right honourable friend the MP for Pudsey will welcome the particular location of this new institution’, Pudsey being between Leeds and Bradford.
The government previously set up a Green Investment Bank in Edinburgh 2012 but privatised it in 2017 and it is now part of Macquarie as the Green Investment Group, one of the successful Round 4 windfarm bidders, so it is having to set up another one.
Another major announcement was the location of eight freeports in England, at East Midlands Airport (the only one that isn’t mainly one or more seaports), Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames and Teesside. That’s one in each government region except the West Midlands, and it is worth noting that these are all of the largest ports in England by tonnage except Dover.
Planning Magazine has a bit more detail on some of them: Humber includes Goole, Grimsby, Hull and Immingham; Solent incorporates Portsmouth International Port and Dunsbury Park; Thames incorporates Tilbury and London Gateway; and Teesside incorporates Teesworks, Wilton International, Teesside International Airport, the Port of Middlesbrough, the Port of Hartlepool, Liberty Steel, LV Shipping and PD Ports. There will also be freeports in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
What is a freeport? It is essentially a low-tax low-regulation area. Goods arriving at it won’t pay import taxes or go through customs unless they are eventually brought further inland, so they could arrive at the port, be assembled and then leave without paying anything in taxes. This base activity will supposedly encourage more, including goods to be imported and exported that will pay taxes and duties.
On the planning side, there is already a simplifying regime called a Local Development Order for local authorities to extend permitted development rights, and LDOs are in place at many of these sites already. However if a development triggered the nationally significant infrastructure project threshold normally, an LDO wouldn’t override that and it would still need a Development Consent Order to go ahead.
The direct availability of compulsory acquisition powers is one of the benefits of a DCO, that may mean there are voluntary business and commercial projects that use the Planning Act 2008 regime as well as the infrastructure projects that have to.
Other than freeports there wasn’t much on the transport front. The A66 upgrade across the Pennines got another chunk of money to help speed it up and other individual projects got some awards.
Offshore windfarms themselves didn’t get anything, but two onshore facilities are to be funded to help support the delivery of them – the Able Marine Energy Park on Humberside and the Teesworks Offshore Manufacturing Centre on Teesside (both to be within freeports). Having worked on AMEP since 2008 I am particularly pleased about that one, it was the first harbour DCO and only the 14th one altogether.
A Holyhead Hydrogen Hub is to be funded on Anglesey (actually on Holy Island west of Anglesey), perhaps some consolation for the loss of the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station. Will it be called H3? Holyhead in Welsh is Caergybi, though.
An interesting announcement only indirectly related to infrastructure planning: Dame Clara Furse, former chief executive of the London Stock Exchange, has been tasked with seeing whether the UK could establish a market in carbon offset trading, now that we are no longer in the European Trading Scheme.