December 6, 2021

‘Devil will be in the detail’ as UK construction sector responds to the Queen’s Speech

Following the Queen’s Speech, we look at the reaction from various figures within the construction and property sectors in an attempt to make sense of what the ramifications will be for Britain and its objective of ‘Building Back Better’.

Richard Beresford, Chief Executive of the National Federation of Builders (NFB)

“Changes to procurement, employment, housing, environment and broadband are welcomed, though the devil will always be in the detail. We will be engaging with the Government on the upcoming bills but also paying close attention to how we progress funding for research and development, skills training, national infrastructure, freeports, climate and even immigration, so we can build back better and progress the levelling up agenda.

“The Government has signalled its intentions and we intend to push them every step of the way. The construction industry is far reaching and a key component of post-Brexit Britain. Unless we are at the heart of the strategy, any ambition for a better Britain will fail.”

Marnix Elsenaar, Partner and Head of Planning at Addleshaw Goddard

“After months of rumours that the Government had got cold feet about following through on the more controversial proposals in its Planning White Paper, in today’s Queen’s Speech the Government has promised a Planning Bill to ‘modernise the planning system, so that more homes can be built’. That’s all we got. The Bill is likely to require local authorities to allocate land either for growth, so that new homes, schools, offices and shops will get a fast-track to planning approval, or for protection. Rumour has it that a third ‘regeneration’ zone is being considered. Whether other elements of the White Paper, such as the fast track for beauty and a new infrastructure levy will make their way into the Bill remains to be seen. What we can say with certainty is that the Bill will be a big step on the road away from the development control system that we’re used to, towards a US-style zonal system that front-loads community engagement to the plan-making stage and provides a national and local design code that sets the parameters for what you can build.”

Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association

“Councils know their local areas best and stand ready to help lead efforts to ensure the new legislative agenda set out in today’s Queen’s Speech – including around planning, jobs, health and care reform, environment, climate change and building safety – is transformational and delivers meaningful, positive change for people and communities.

“We are pleased that proposals on social care reform will be brought forward but we urgently need a clear timeline. It is vital that this is also urgently converted into concrete funding proposals to provide sustainable support to people of all ages across the country who draw on social care to live the life they want to lead. We are keen to work with Government and other stakeholders on a cross party basis to achieve this. We cannot keep kicking this can down the road.

“The LGA and councils look forward to working closely with the Government to help deliver on its commitment to level up powers and invest in local areas across all parts of the country. With the right funding and freedoms, councils will play a leading role in the country’s recovery from the pandemic, driving improvements in public health, boosting local economic growth, reviving town and city centres, building more homes, improving our roads and equipping people with the skills they need to succeed so no one is left behind.”

Olivia Harris, Chief Executive of Dolphin Living

“It is absolutely right that the government continues to focus on its ‘levelling-up’ agenda and reform of the planning system both as part of the wider post-Covid recovery, but also to address the major socio-economic disparities across the UK. Central to this is the need to tackle the housing crisis as a key component of efforts to ‘level-up’ areas of the country which feel as though they have been left behind. However, as a housing charity working to deliver homes for those who do not qualify for social housing, yet unable to afford local market rents, within Inner London, we believe that this approach also has to include a specific commitment to ‘level-up London’ through help to finance the delivery of a significant proportion of intermediate housing to rent or part buy as part of a broad tenure mix.”

Tim Wood, Acting Chief Executive at Transport for the North

“Today’s Queen’s Speech opened with a statement on levelling up and the need to transform connectivity by rail and bus as part of the agenda. That this is high on the list of priorities is welcome news and must now be met with action as we focus on rebalancing our economy and improving transport links.

“We now need to see commitment to these aims in the upcoming Integrated Rail Plan, including backing the full HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail networks. Alongside a sustained pipeline of investment in our roads and active travel provision, this will support the cross-cutting themes of economic recovery and growth out of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as increasing skills and opportunities for the North’s communities.

“Clear targets on climate change are also to be welcomed. Green growth is a big challenge, and one that is a key area of focus for Transport for the North. Our upcoming Decarbonisation Strategy provides a strong evidence base and clear plan for how cutting carbon emissions can be achieved, and offers a vision for future transport networks that will tackle the climate emergency.”

Pete Ladhams, Managing Director at Assael Architecture

“The planning system was urgently in need of an overhaul, and we welcome a shortened and more efficient planning process. By eliminating the second tier of potential objections to planning, homes will be built much faster, greatly increasing our chances of reaching the government’s target of 300,000 homes a year. 

“In growth areas, enabling the automatic planning approval of offices, homes, retail, hospitals and schools will allow architects to respond to the urgent needs of towns and cities swiftly. But, as architects, our role will now be to design these buildings and ensure they’re high-quality, contextually sensitive to local aesthetics, and that they are helping to form and strengthen communities and bridge the gap between existing residents and new developments.”

Alex Wrottesley, Managing Director at Landmark

“In exploring the Planning reform proposals for digitised, web-based local plans, we welcome the aims to increase the use of digital technology within and across the whole system, ensuring Planning can become more accessible and streamlined to everyone. We believe, however, that for digitalisation to succeed, it needs to be part of a wider strategy for technology to be used to improve the speed and quality of planning decisions, based on comprehensive, relevant, up-to-date, consistent and above all accurate data. 

“Digital technology in the planning system has been used for twenty or more years but important legacy data is not interactive and currently sits on separate platforms, preventing cross referencing. There is now a significant opportunity to modernise planning services by integrating and combining the data available on these individual systems. Further, the use of interactive geospatial technology, real time information, high quality virtual simulation and standardising digital data offers the chance to enable a major positive shift in the speed and quality of decision making.  

“We believe ambitions for a digitally interactive system will require significant and specific funding for the service, plus the need for wide-spread staff training to address skill shortages particularly for geospatial users. In addition, to ensure implementation and the reforms are to be met, we believe a statutory requirement will need to be introduced and overseen.

“We fully applaud the digital ambitions. Making local plans digitally interactive across the nation would standardise processes, offer greater accessibility, collaboration and community engagement in planning applications and decisions. However, we also appreciate the challenges will require significant commitment and innovation from both the public and private sectors to overhaul the system.” 

Peter Hawthorne, CEO at LCR

“Zoning land for development or regeneration could help unlock much needed housing stock. But the reform announced today will take time to roll out, and local authorities can take advantage of opportunities to bring forward development now to meet existing demand for new housing.

“Transport-linked land is one such opportunity. Executed well, transport-focused regeneration can help to deliver new homes and create jobs for a local area. But critically, it can also act as a catalyst for wider investment in regional economies, making it a natural fit for the ‘build back better’ strategy.

 “Moving forward, we would also encourage local authorities to factor these transport-linked sites into their zoning plans to help maximise value in the future. Transforming these sites into true community assets can unlock myriad social benefits and significant economic growth – and they already bring with them the connectivity needed to make any new development a success.”

Dean Clifford, Co-founder of Great Marlborough Estates

“Whether owning a home turns you into a Tory is debatable but what’s not debatable is homeownership remains the aspiration for the vast majority of Britons and it is right the government should look to prioritise getting people onto the housing ladder.

“A new zonal system that simplifies the planning process would is a welcome move. Planning authorities should also have the necessary resources to enforce the strict design codes promised and it is crucial that so-called ‘growth’ areas are fairly distributed and cover where housing need is greatest.”

Andrew Shepherd, Managing Director at TopHat Solutions

“An overhaul of our dated planning system is well overdue, and the proposed changes outlined in the Queen’s Speech will be crucial to hitting the government’s annual housing targets. The inefficiencies of the current system means it takes far too long to have planning approved, and the more time that passes, the longer people go without suitable housing. It’s all very well opposing new builds from a privileged, homeowning position, but these decisions have an enormous economic impact – both through low levels of affordability and the fact that the UK’s workforce becomes less mobile due to a lack of suitable housing across the country.

“A new and improved planning system should act as a catalyst for innovation and high levels of productivity in the house building sector. By encouraging the uptake of modern methods of construction (MMC) – just as Homes England did last year by stating that housing associations looking to sign deals under the new £12bn Affordable Housing Programme will have to commit to using MMC to deliver at least a quarter of their pipelines – greener homes can be delivered in half the time of traditional methods.

“The house building industry has neither the capacity nor resource to deliver on the Government’s 300,000-new-homes-a-year target, so additionality will be crucial. Factory-built housing can provide that.”

Dave Sheridan, Executive Chairman at ilke Homes 

“The prime minister’s commitment to the biggest shake up to the planning system in 70 years outlined in the Queen’s Speech is fantastic news for the housebuilding industry.

“The proposed changes will help the government achieve its ambitious targets of delivering 300,000 new homes a year and will bring much-needed stock to the housing market. While delivering more housing is vital, and rightly a central part of the reforms, policymakers must ensure that homes being delivered today are suitable for tomorrow. 

“By reserving public land exclusively for factory-built homes, which, due to precision-engineering techniques and the utilisation of low-carbon technologies, are highly energy-efficient, the Government will ensure that its housing policies are aligned with its climate ones.

“Such a policy could also help create jobs and stoke new investment into technology across the North – where the UK’s offsite manufacturing industry has a critical mass- which would be a huge boost for Boris Johnson’s levelling-up agenda.”