900: Planning and infrastructure focus in Queen’s Speech
Today’s entry reports on this week’s Queen’s Speech.
The Queen gave her first speech announcing the government’s programme for the parliamentary session on 4 November 1952 – you can find it here.
In it she said ‘further measures will be promoted relating to the Town and Country Planning Acts of 1947’. The latest speech can be found here and the accompanying briefing note promises ‘a simpler, faster and more modern planning system to replace the current one that dates back to 1947’. Plus ça change.
The briefing note (163 pages!) is very useful, as what the government intends cannot always be easily determined from what the Queen actually said.
Planning and infrastructure are more prominent than usual. First there will be a landmark Planning Bill (oh no, does that mean the ‘Planning Act’ will soon default to the Planning Act 2021/2 rather than the Planning Act 2008?!).
The purpose of the bill is stated to:
- create a simpler, faster and more modern planning system;
- ensure homes and (social) infrastructure can be delivered more quickly across England;
- transform from a document-based system to a digital and map-based one; and
- help deliver vital (economic) infrastructure whilst helping to protect and enhance the environment.
The content of the bill is divided into five areas:
- changing local plans relating to different categories of land;
- significantly decreasing the time taken in the planning system;
- introducing a more predictable and transparent levy for affordable housing and infrastructure;
- simplifying and enhancing environmental assessment; and
- reforming local development corporation legislation.
The first one of these is zoning in all but name. The third is a replacement for the community infrastructure levy, but appears to extend to affordable housing as well. You might have thought the fourth would be in the Environment Bill, but it is in this one. The fifth may be linked to freeports.
The above-mentioned Environment Bill is announced for the third time. Its three purposes are putting the environment at the heart of policy-making, creating the Office of Environmental Protection, and miscellaneous powers relating to recycling, air pollution, water and wastewater services, and biodiversity. One addition to the existing bill is to reduce pollution from storm overflows.
The requirement for biodiversity net gain is in this bill; it currently only extends to town and country planning rather than national infrastructure. Will that distinction survive? It is currently causing problems that there is an expectation that infrastructure projects provide BNG but the legal and policy backup is not there. Is it valid ‘associated development’? Can land be compulsorily acquired for it? Can public money be spent on it?
Details on how precisely environmental impact assessment will be reformed have yet to emerge but this may have a significant effect on project preparation.
The High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill is announced, indicating that the Y-shaped network north of Birmingham is starting on the Manchester side, with the Leeds side having to wait. London to Manchester will take one hour 12 minutes, and Birmingham to Manchester will take 40 minutes.
Not planning per se, but there will be a Public Procurement Bill that will reform the way that infrastructure projects and others will be procured.
Other bills include one on rail and bus reform, although it is about franchising rather than infrastructure, and one on product security and telecommunications infrastructure.
I may be reading too much into it but when Project Speed is mentioned in the briefing note it refers to building ‘faster, greener and better’, when it used to be ‘better, greener and faster’. Is speed now more important than quality?
Finally, the latest government-speak. The UK Infrastructure Bank (based in Leeds) is apparently going to ‘crowd in’ £2.5 million of external capital for every £1 million of public investment. Ugh.