Week commencing 23 April 2018

In today's bulletin

• Residential property sales drop in March
• MPs debate draft legislation to bring empty homes back into use

• Port connectivity report reveals sector’s £1.7 billion contribution
• Taps will run dry without infrastructure improvements, NIC warns

Property, Planning and Regeneration

Residential property sales drop in March

The current slump in the UK housing market continues, as the total number of residential property sale transactions fell 7.2 per cent between February and March 2018, according to the latest figures from HMRC.
Published on 24 April, the data reveals the UK residential property transaction count for March 2018 was 92,270, which is an 11.8 per cent drop from the same month last year.

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MPs debate draft legislation to bring empty homes back into use

New legislation giving local authorities powers to bring vacant homes back into use was debated by MPs last week.
Brought to Parliament on 23 April, the proposed legislation makes provision for councils to charge twice as much Council Tax on homes left empty for two years or more, replacing the current 50 per cent levy. More than 200,000 homes are long-term empty in the UK, down from 300,000 in 2010.

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New research reveals existing fire safety tests are inadequate

A series of experiments, carried out by the Fire Protection Association (FPA) and commissioned by the Association of British Insurers (ABI), has exposed the inadequacy of current laboratory tests used to check the fire safety of building materials.
The new tests recreated more realistic building conditions, such as including plastic in test fires and testing on materials that aren’t brand new, to understand the causes that varying factors can have on a fire. In a submission to the Hackitt review, the ABI called for a reformed testing regime and for all materials in construction to be non-combustible.

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Collaboration key to off-site manufacturing, says Heathrow expansion director

Clients must work closely with designers to reap the benefits of off-site manufacturing, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has heard.
During an evidence session held on 24 April, Heathrow expansion director Phil Wilbraham spoke about the benefits of incorporating off-site methods into the design phase. The inquiry, launched last month, brings together housebuilders and engineering experts to consider offsite manufacturing as a means of improving productivity in the construction sector.

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Uncertainty “negatively affected” councils’ financial planning

Uncertainty over business rates retention reforms has “negatively affected” councils’ financial planning, according to a short inquiry conducted by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. The Committee concluded on 24 April that the move from 50 to 100 per cent retention of business rates revenue was not clearly communicated to councils and that this could ultimately impact on service provision.
The report recommends that the Government compensates local authorities with any business rates revenue lost because of this decision, while suggesting ministers also consider reimbursing councils for any significant losses from appeals.

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Housing shortage “crippling” London recruitment

London’s housing affordability crisis is having a negative impact on recruitment of entry-level staff, according to new data – published on 24 April – by CBI and CBRE in the latest London Business Survey.
Two thirds of respondents said that the shortage of affordable housing is limiting their ability to recruit and retain employees – up from 57 per cent when the question was previously asked in 2015. The data reveals more senior employees are also being affected, with three fifths saying housing affordability is an issue for mid-level managerial staff and a quarter saying the same for senior staff.

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Ministers say quality and quantity

Former Housing Secretary Sajid Javid and Housing Minister Dominic Raab have urged the industry to harness the latest innovations in housebuilding, after recent research revealed that more than seventy per cent of people would support new housing in their area if the buildings were well-designed.
Speaking at the Government’s Design Quality Conference on 25 April, ministers outlined how good design is fundamental in securing support for schemes from local communities and first-time buyers. This latest drive comes as the Government seeks to achieve its ambition of delivering 300,000 new homes in England by the mid-2020s.

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UK house prices rise in April

The average house price rose to £213,000 in April, up by 0.2 per cent from last month, according to Nationwide’s House Price Index.
Annual house price growth has also increased by 0.5 per cent to 2.6 per cent, leading experts to remain positive that house prices will rise by an estimated one per cent throughout 2018.

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Panel of infrastructure future leaders announced

The UK’s best young professionals in infrastructure gathered for the first time last week to discuss their recommendations for meeting the country’s needs from now until 2050.
Launched by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), the Young Professional Panel – which met on 25 April – is made up of 16 future leaders who will support the NIC with its work while developing their own ideas for the sector. Following this initial meeting, the Panel is expected to host its first formal meeting later this summer.

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Port connectivity report reveals sector’s £1.7 billion contribution

UK ports directly contribute £1.7 billion to the UK economy annually, rising to £5.4 billion once other factors such as supply chains are considered, a new report from the Department for Transport has found.
Transport for our global future: a study of England’s port connectivity, published on 24 April, revealed that 95 per cent of all goods entering and leaving Britain are currently moved by sea. It recommends greater cohesion between port authorities and inland transport network operators to ensure sufficient capacity exists for cost-effective transportation between key economic areas and ports.

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DfT criticised for “broken” rail franchising system

MPs have attacked the Government’s “completely inadequate” handling of two of the UK’s major rail franchises, stating that problems with the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) and East Coast franchises caused increased delays and train cancellations.
In its report published on 18 April, the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts found that the Government’s franchising plans had overlooked the poor condition of the rail network’s infrastructure and that lessons were not learnt from previous failures. The cross-party committee also criticised the handling of trade union disputes, stating that ministers had failed to foresee the potential impact of strike action.

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Energy and environment

Taps will run dry without infrastructure improvements, NIC warns

Households face a one-in-four chance of having their water supplies cut off for extended periods because of severe drought within the next 30 years, the National Infrastructure Commission has warned.
Preparing for a drier future, launched on 26 April, calls for the development of a new national water network and further infrastructure including reservoirs and desalination plants to ensure the system can meet pressures from growing demand and climate change. A fifth of the country’s water supply – almost 3,000 million litres each day – is currently lost due to leaks caused by inefficient infrastructure.

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Disused mine shafts could store renewable energy

Mine shafts dug to carry coal to the surface could be used to store renewable energy through gravity, with a new report by Imperial College London predicting that the concept could offer the lowest cost of energy storage currently available.
Gravitricity, an Edinburgh-based start-up company, has proposed using weights of up to 2,000 tonnes suspended in deep shafts, which would then be winched to the top when there is excess electricity in the grid to be dispersed. Conversely, at times of low supply, operators would release the weight, using its downward movement to power generators.

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Other News

Small businesses struggling to prepare for GDPR

Britain’s small businesses are facing “an uphill challenge” to ensure compliance ahead of changes to data protection laws that come into force next month. Research by the Federation of Small Businesses shows that, as of February, two thirds of small businesses had either not started or were in the initial stages of preparation for General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The membership organisation is calling for the Information Commissioners’ Office to take an understanding approach to enforcement for small firms that are not compliant by May’s deadline.

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