Boris Johnson’s government outlines legislative plans for next five years
In a Queen’s speech that bore a remarkable similarity to the one delivered barely 10 weeks ago, Boris Johnson’s government announced plans to press ahead with a planning white paper, housing safety measures and spending on hospitals and school buildings.
Bolstered by the general election result which delivered a Conservative majority of 80, and the expected passage of the EU withdrawal bill later this week, the government confirmed it will publish its £100bn infrastructure plan in line with the next budget, which is due to take place in February.
RIBA response to the Queen’s speech
RIBA president Alan Jones said: “The Queen’s speech outlines a substantial programme of actions and emphasises the scale of the challenges facing the country – not least in tackling the housing crisis, dealing with the climate emergency and moving forward with Brexit. The RIBA will continue to encourage government to draw on the expertise of architects to address these vital issues.
“We await more detail on the new fire safety bills outlined. New legislation must take a holistic view of the issues and urgently introduce clear and robust regulations. We have been clear that action is long overdue: England continues to lag behind other countries in the UK and across the world on fire safety, putting lives at risk.
“We welcome the commitment to tackling the lack of resourcing in planning departments. The RIBA has long campaigned for this, and we look forward to working with government nationally and locally to ensure that new resourcing meets the challenge of the housing crisis and reflects the broad range of professional expertise required to deliver high quality buildings, places and communities.”
A Building Safety Bill will also be brought forward to bring in laws needed to embed the post-Grenfell changes to fire safety, such as new criminal sanctions for those that breach safety rules, and the formation of a new regulator.
The briefing said the law would create an “enhanced safety framework for high-rise residential buildings, taking forward the recommendations from Judith Hackitt’s independent review of building safety”, describing it as “a new system to oversee the whole built environment”. The government will also legislate to require that housing developers become members of the New Homes Ombudsman the government is setting up.
The government pledged to “deliver meaningful change to ensure an appalling tragedy like Grenfell can never happen again”.
A fire safety bill will “put beyond doubt that the Fire Safety Order will require building owners and managers of multi-occupied residential premises of any height to fully consider and mitigate the risks of any external wall systems and fire doors”.
It will also strengthen enforcement powers to hold building owners and managers to account.
The government reiterated its commitment to taking forward all 53 of Judith Hackitt’s recommendations “and in some areas going further”.
Planning white paper
The government promised to “set out further steps” in the “coming months” to explain how it will deliver a million new homes in the course of the next parliament.
The measures will include a £10bn Single Housing Infrastructure fund – as well as the long-promised planning white paper which housing minister Robert Jenrick said would be published this year but which was derailed by the election.
The white paper would “make the planning process clearer, more accessible and more certain for all users, including homeowners and small businesses”, said the government in a briefing note to the Queen’s Speech.
It also promised to address resourcing and performance in planning departments.
The government said it would “shortly launch a consultation on First Homes. This will provide homes for local people and key workers at a discount of at least 30%”, something it said would save such housebuyers “tens of thousands of pounds”.
The discount would be secured through a covenant, ensuring that the homes remain affordable in perpetuity. The government also confirmed that the discount would be funded by developers, and it would “consider both planning changes and legislation in order to deliver this [policy].”
However, legislation to enable starter homes is already on the statute books, so it is unclear what new laws will be needed to make the First Homes policy a reality.
The speech included several other pledges on housing that will form part of the legislative programme in the year ahead.
The Queen said that: “New measures will be brought forward to protect tenants” – a reference to the manifesto pledge to end ‘no fault’ evictions. However, the briefing made clear this law will also strengthen the rights of landlords to gain possession of their property “when they have a valid reason to do so”.
A new immigration bill would “pave the way for a new points-based immigration system… based on people’s skills and contributions to the UK”, the government said.
The new single system would allocate points on a range of criteria in three broad categories and it will be focused on skills and talents, not nationality, and include migrants who had received world-leading awards or demonstrated exceptional talent and sponsored entrepreneurs setting up a new business or investors.
Skilled workers who meet the criteria of the points-based system and have a job offer would meet the new system’s requirements, as would sector-specific workers who enter on schemes for low-skilled work, youth mobility or short-term visits. These provide no route to permanent settlement and will be revised regularly based on advice from the Migration Advisory Committee, which is due to report on the proposed points system next month.
The national infrastructure strategy will set out the government’s long-term plans across all areas of economic infrastructure including transport, decarbonisation, digital infrastructure, infrastructure finance and delivery.
It will also provide the government’s formal response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s 2018 National Infrastructure Assessment, which made a series of independent recommendations about what infrastructure needed to be delivered by 2050.
The government also confirmed that, dependent on the outcome of the Oakervee review and government response, the bill for the section of HS2 between Birmingham and Crewe would pass through parliament.
It also committed to a number of major investments in the railway including the Midlands Rail Hub and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
Schools and further education
The government also revealed plans to boost investment in schools by £14bn over the next three years, and “implement the biggest infrastructure revolution in living memory”.
The core schools’ budget will be £7.1bn higher in 2022-23 compared to this year, and there will be £1.8bn rebuilding programme over five years to upgrade the entire further education college estate.
The government is also planning to establish 20 Institutes of Technology across England, offering higher technical education and training in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, while a new £10bn Single Housing Infrastructure fund will support the delivery of roads, schools and GP surgeries needed to support new homes.
The government repeated its pledge to build 40 hospitals over the next ten years, although there were no new details on how much this programme would cost.
Alongside a multi-year funding settlement for the NHS enshrined in law – providing £33.9bn increase in cash terms by 2023-24 – the government said building projects “will provide a range of new healthcare facilities to replace poor estate and provide better patient environment, including emergency and specialist care, and women’s and children’s services”.
It reiterated its commitment to meeting its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
And it promised to “protect nature and improve biodiversity by working with developers”.
It also promised an environment bill that would establish a new office for environmental protection, increase local powers to tackle air pollution, introduce charges for specified single-use plastic items and deposit-return schemes, extend producer responsibility and ban exports of polluting plastic waste to non-OECD countries.
The government has already published a White Paper setting out its strategy for full devolution across England but said it would provide further information on plans to level up powers between Mayoral Combined Authorities, increasing the number of mayors and do more devolution deals.
These increased powers and funding will mean more local responsibility.
The government also reaffirmed its commitment to the Northern Powerhouse, Midlands Engine, and Western Gateway strategies.
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