Plans to speed up planning system cautiously welcomed but measures to boost economic growth descibed as ”thin”

The built environment has given a muted reaction to yesterday’s autumn statement, welcoming measures to speed up the planning system but criticising measures to boost economic growth as too thin.

Jeremy Hunt unveiled plans to allow developers to pay for a “premium planning service” which would require councils to make faster decisions on major schemes.

The “full expensing” measure which lets businesses claim 25% of the cost of investments in IT, equipment and machinery was also made permanent by the chancellor in what he called the “largest business tax cut in modern British history”.

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Source: Treasury/flickr

Jeremy Hunt pictured ahead of yesterday’s autumn statement

RIBA president Muyiwa Oki welcomed Hunt’s offering to speed up council decisions on schemes but said the industry needed ”systemic reform of our dysfunctional planning system”.

Arcadis UK cities director Peter Hogg added that the idea that letting developers pay for faster decisions would turn the dial on housing supply was “fanciful”.

“The Chancellor made a big play of his ‘planning reform’ but, cynically, his proposal is little more than applicants paying more to get the service they should have got anyway,” he said.

Hogg also said the chancellor’s decision to split the Treasury’s £27bn fiscal headroom into 110 separate measures aiming to boost growth meant that many of the funding pledges were “pretty thin”.

“Overall, little that the Chancellor did was wrong but, in attempting too much he diluted the impact of his £27bn dividend,” Hogg said.

Hunt also unveiled £4.5bn in funding for green infrastructure and plans to accelerate projects by cutting waiting times to connect to the electricity grid by 90%.

Stantec energy business director for the UK and Ireland John Ord welcomed the measures, describing delays in accessing grid capacity as one of many “significant barriers” to development in the green energy sector.

But he said it would now be essential for the government to “lock in this positive progress, work as a sector with government to develop the details of the long-term strategy, and secure commitment that this will be maintained and supported by current and future administrations.” 

John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said Hunt’s move was a “big step forward” but said the government needed to “urgently” finalise clear policy statements on energy and transport to achieve the ambition.

“Speeding up the planning process for major infrastructure projects is vital to achieving net zero, improving climate resilience and boosting economic growth,” Armitt said. “Industry and investors will be watching to ensure government moves from commitments to action. There’s no time to lose.”

Construction Products Association economics director Noble Francis said Hunt’s offering on accelerating infastructure was “helpful” but criticised the lack of an updated National Infrastructure Strategy.

”This lack of certainty over the project pipeline means that it is difficult for all firms in the construction supply chain to justify signing-off significant new investments in skills and capacity, especially after all the government announcements of infrastructure projects being paused, delayed and cancelled this year,” Francis said.