Week commencing 8 May 2017

In today's bulletin

• RTPI: how planning can respond to the digital economy
• Body launched to transform housing design and construction

• Government urged to commit to infrastructure investment
• Renewables key to UK energy future

Property, Planning and Regeneration

Councils failing countryside

Local authorities are failing to measure housing need against constraints such as Green Belt designation and should do more to protect the countryside, according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). The CPRE argues that more local authorities need to pursue housing targets lower than their Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) in cases where Green Belt, Areas of
Outstanding Natural Beauty or other restrictive designations apply on local land. Based on research published on 8 May, the organisation suggests that local authorities need to apply a different method of calculating need, which takes into account protected countryside and wider building rates.

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RTPI: how planning can respond to the digital economy

Planners need to take steps to understand how the built environment and planning decisions can foster growth in the digital economy, new guidance from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has urged. Published on 8 May, The digital economy and town planning: planning’s role in the growth of the new economy notes that the digital technology sector is among the strongest
drivers of growth in metropolitan areas across the UK, and calls for planners to understand what attracts innovators to certain areas. Recommendations include: using company registration data to gauge growth in the digital economy at a local level; employing a specialist team to engage with the sector; and ensuring adequate housing and infrastructure to support innovation.

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Town planning degree given provisional green light

A proposal to run a Degree Apprenticeship for Chartered Town Planners in the UK was approved in principle by the government on 10 May. The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) apprenticeship will equip employees with vital practical skills to complement their technical knowledge. Aimed at school
leavers, the apprenticeship is expected to be completed within six years, with the cost of tuition jointly covered by the government and the employer. If approved, the apprenticeship could be offered as early as spring 2018.

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Body launched to transform housing design and construction

Celebrity architect George Clarke launched a new educational, research and development organisation on 10 May in response to the UK’s ‘broken’ housing market. Based in the North East, the Ministry of Building Innovation (MOBI) aims to inspire a future generation of innovative housebuilders and
encourage new techniques and ways of thinking in the construction industry. As well as working with industry and government, MOBI will partner with Teesside University to offer new degree programmes, which focus on modernisation and innovation in the housing industry.

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House price growth remains stable

The rate of annual house price growth in the three months to April was unchanged from March at 3.8 per cent, according to the latest Halifax House Price Index, published on 8 May. However, prices were down 0.2 per cent from the previous quarter – the first time prices have dropped quarter-to-quarter since late 2012, leaving the average UK house valued at just under
£220,000. The report suggests that confidence in the UK market is stabilising, with home sales six per cent higher in the first three months of 2017 compared to the last quarter of 2016. Housing supply remains “very low”, with the level of new properties coming onto the market continuing to fall.

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UK housing market in danger of stagnating

The UK housing market continues to slow down and faces the prospect of a flat summer ahead, claims a new report by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Released on 11 May 2017, The UK Residential Market Survey found that activity in the sector is continuing to ebb, with a slight decline in both sales and new buyer enquiries over April.
Political uncertainty and changes to stamp duty are cited as factors hampering market activity, but an “acute shortage of stock” has supported moderate price rises in every region across England and Wales, with the exception of East Anglia and the North East.

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Mixed start to 2017 for construction industry

The first quarter of 2017 has seen mixed fortunes for the UK’s building and engineering companies, according to the Construction Product Association’s (CPA) latest trade survey. Published on 8 May, the survey suggests that SME builders, specialist contractors and civil engineering firms have seen
increased demand, while main building contractors have experienced a year-on-year decline in output. The CPA also found that private-sector housebuilding has been the main source of activity, with further pressure exerted on the industry by increasing prices and the depreciation of the pound.

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Transport

Government allays Network Rail funding fears

The government has quashed concerns that it will divert up to £1.8 billion from the sale of Network Rail assets directly to the Treasury, rather than invest the funds back into infrastructure upgrades. Minutes from a September board meeting released in May suggested that the proceeds from the sale of surplus
land and property, as specified in the 2015 Hendy Report, would be used to help reduce the UK national deficit, instead of being reinvested in the railway network. A statement from the Department for Transport denied the claims, confirming that “[the] proceeds will not be used to pay off the deficit”.

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Government urged to commit to infrastructure investment

The next UK government must adopt a national transport strategy and a ‘total expenditure approach’ to investment on funding for infrastructure projects, according to the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT). Published on May 9, the body’s pre-election statement urges a greater
recognition of the transport sector’s role in placemaking and economic development. The chief executive of CIHT, Sue Percy, argues that transport infrastructure investment offers an opportunity for a post-Brexit UK to ensure its productivity and competitiveness in global markets.

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Energy and environment

Renewables key to UK energy future

The next government needs to invest in affordable low-carbon power to keep consumer energy bills low, RenewableUK has claimed in a pre-election manifesto. Published on 9 May, Powering Britain highlights the advantages of renewable energy in the UK and outlines four steps for a successful
energy future: investment in affordable low-carbon power; developing a long-term low-carbon vision; building smart energy infrastructure and protecting the export opportunities of renewable energy for Britain post-Brexit.

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Concern over energy supplier cyber breaches

Cyber security in the energy sector is a significant concern for two-thirds of UK businesses, the latest B2B Energy Survey by PwC has revealed. Published on 8 May, the survey shows that more than half of the 500 businesses consulted expressed concerns over the safety of energy suppliers’ client data, with 57 per cent of businesses and 70 per cent of industrials claiming they
would switch suppliers if their current one experienced a cyber breach. PwC advised energy suppliers to take steps to protect data and reassure customers, for example choosing to partner only with trusted third parties to guarantee data security.

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European wind power investment hits peak

Investment in wind power across Europe reached record levels in 2016 but is expected to fall this year, according to industry trade group WindEurope. Published on 9 May, the annual Financing and Investment Trends report outlined that, while European wind developers attracted a total of €43 billion of investment for new projects last year – a rise of 22 per cent from 2015 –
funding is expected to fall as countries move to new competitive tender processes. The report suggests that inflation in recent investment levels is partially a result of wind projects being expedited to meet government subsidy deadlines before the transition to auction-based mechanisms.

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Other News

UK growth predictions lowered

The Bank of England (BoE) has revised its UK growth forecast for 2017 down to 1.9 per cent in its latest Inflation Report, having previously been estimated at 2 per cent in February’s report. The BoE predicts that growth will be slowed by a freeze in wage rises paired with increasing inflation.
Growth estimates for 2018 were revised up from 1.6 per cent to 1.7 per cent, while 2019 growth is predicted at 1.8 per cent. The bank also warned that it is unable to fully cushion the British economy from the impact of Brexit.

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