New London Architecture

TCPA and Architects Declare hit out on PM’s ‘build, build, build’

Friday 03 July 2020

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

The Town and Country Planning Association and Architects Declare have hit out at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to ‘build, build, build’ as ‘campaign rhetoric’, mounting an attack on permitted development, robust defence for the work planners do and a critique of its green credentials, respectively.
Fiona Howie, Chief Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, said that although the Prime Minister’s references to building beautiful, low carbon homes, his re-commitment to ‘levelling up’ and his desire to ‘fix the problems that were illuminated during COVID’ were ‘positive’, it was ‘totally unclear how the associated announcements around extending permitted development rights will achieve these priorities’.
The Prime Minister also committed to radical planning reform, with an emphasis on speeding up the system, said Howie. ‘If we want to build back better and build back greener, this needs to be central to any planning reform agenda. As does the need to focus on delivering better outcomes for people. Instead of continuing to argue that the planning system is a barrier, decision-makers must see planning as a crucial part of the solution. COVID brought to the fore the importance of local green spaces, high quality, genuinely affordable homes. But rather than any indication that these lessons have been learnt much of the investment programme is about traditional infrastructure. 
In the past, ‘radical’ planning reform has meant taking democratic accountability out of the system, but you can’t build without community consent. And we can’t aim to revitalise town centres without involving local communities. Steam-rolling over people’s views will be divisive and counterproductive. What we have heard from the government today is campaign rhetoric, not real leadership to enable meaningful change to tackle our health, housing and climate crises.’
In a separate response, meanwhile, the Architects Declare movement said that although a green recovery is supported by the vast majority of the British population Johnson’s speech ‘falls woefully short of what is required to stay within 1.5C of global heating.’

While we welcome investment that reduces inequality and improves health, they added, it should be noted that even the president of the Automobile Association questions further road building now that millions of people have got used to home-working. It is reported that the Government proposes to spend £100 million on building roads - 10 times what is earmarked for rail – and this is clearly moving in the opposite direction. We support investment in public transport and renewable energy infrastructure and other measures to radically reduce our carbon emissions

The speech lacked specific commitments and made no clear reference to the £9.2bn Conservative manifesto pledge for renovating Britain’s draughty and unhealthy homes, the statement added. ‘This would create jobs, reduce fuel poverty, and help to meet legislated carbon targets. It is essential that this is given high priority. As leading construction professionals, we are ready and waiting to offer the practical expertise to deliver this and the necessary zero carbon buildings programme.

On the basis of this speech, the UK Government is failing to rise to the challenge of the climate emergency at the very time it should be showing global leadership in the build-up to the COP26 climate summit.”


BECG, meanwhile, offered its five take-aways from Johnson’s announcements.

1. There will be no return to austerity to balance the books.

In a significant shift away from the approach of the Coalition Government in 2010 after the last global financial crisis, we will be spending our way out of the Covid-19 economic downturn. Indeed, the PM sees this as the opportunity to “address the UK’s problems” that have not been tackled for decades – including investment in rail, roads, energy and IT infrastructure across the country designed to bring the four nations together.

This is a central tenet to the PM’s agenda for Government, and part of his wanting to be seen as something different to his predecessors. Boris wants a legacy that is not Covid-19 – today kicks this off.

2. The ‘levelling up’ agenda is back on, with announcements focussed on the North and Midlands, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail were both highlighted, but expect announcements in the coming weeks and months about infrastructure projects in the South West and the devolved nations too – with a review of road, air, sea and rail links between the four UK nations. This effectively echoes the sentiments of the Conservative manifesto in December 2019, and the Budget in March.

The speech was high on rhetoric and low on detail, leaving much to the Chancellor, who makes a statement next week, and the National Infrastructure Strategy that will be published in the Autumn. However, hinting at what lies ahead, the PM suggested that new investment in the Midlands could be “well north of £3bn”,

3. A focus on new jobs and skills will counter the job losses caused by Covid-19, including promising an ‘opportunity guarantee’.

BECG is especially pleased to see the Prime Minister committing to an ‘opportunity guarantee’, giving every young person the chance of an apprenticeship or in-work placement. BECG devised and led this campaign with our clients to secure this commitment, and so are delighted to see this endorsed by the Prime Minister as a central part of the UK’s economic recovery.

The Prime Minister also announced that every public infrastructure project would help create jobs for people who are furloughed or had lost their job since January. This is a clear sign that this Government sees itself as a tool to create jobs, not just encourage the private sector to do so. The new infrastructure announcements later in the year will bolster this.

4. Shovel ready’ projects will be accelerated to provide investment and jobs in 2020 and 2021

To get the economy moving quicker, £900m is being made available for local growth projects in England over the course of this year and next to bring forward projects that have been stalled by Covid-19 but could get going again. This sits alongside £96m to accelerate investment in town centres and high streets through the Towns Fund this year. Likewise, previously trailed changes allowing extensions to planning permissions to the end of the year will also be aimed at facilitating new development quickly.

For those in the built environment sector, this presents an opportunity to win kudos with government – the faster schemes can be brought back online the better, and no doubt the Government will be keeping an eye on who gets moving and who continues to stall.

5. The planning system will be overhauled with what is being presented as the “most ambitious” reform of the planning rules since the Second World War as part of ‘Project Speed’.

Highlighting the ability of the UK to create the Nightingale Hospitals so quickly, the PM wants to make it easier and quicker to bring forward new development and has identified the planning system as the biggest barrier – something echoed by advisors Dominic Cummings and Jack Airey. The long-awaited Planning Policy paper will be launched in July and will apparently end the “newt-counting delays in our system”.

So far it has been confirmed that there will be reform of Use Classes to add flexibility into commercial buildings and extensions to Permitted Development Rights to allow vacant buildings to be converted in to residential more easily. More will inevitably follow, and it’ll be interesting to see how many of the recommendations produced by No10 Housing and Planning Special Advisor, Jack Airey, in his paper for Policy Exchange last year form the basis of the new planning system.

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly


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