Week commencing 11 March 2019

In today's bulletin

• Chancellor announces new initiatives to boost housebuilding
• Policy Exchange proposes 15 new ‘millennial towns’

• Birmingham City Council’s Clean Air Zone approved
• Environmental headlines from the Spring Statement

Property, Planning and Regeneration

Chancellor announces new initiatives to boost housebuilding

The Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, pledged a raft of funding commitments for housing and development in the Spring Statement on 13 March. The Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Arc was a key beneficiary, with a new joint declaration agreed between the Government and the arc’s local authorities.
Separately, housing associations were encouraged to increase building rates with a £3bn commitment to the Affordable Homes Guarantee Scheme. The National Housing Federation (NHF) and the G15 group of housing associations welcomed the new funding, but urged that more is needed to meet the Government’s target of 300,000 new homes a year.

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Policy Exchange proposes 15 new ‘millennial towns’

The think tank Policy Exchange has proposed that a new government department, known as the Department for Growth, is established and partners with housebuilders and the Mayor of London to deliver 15 new millennial towns in London’s commuter belt.
The Tomorrow’s Places report, published on 11 March, explains that these new millennial towns will help to address the shortage of housing in and around the capital, should be designed to increase residents’ access to green space, and should provide young people with discounted home ownership.

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LGA calls for tougher sprinkler requirements

The Local Government Association (LGA) has urged the Government to introduce stricter fire-safety requirements in all new residential buildings in the UK. At its annual fire conference on 11 March, the LGA specifically called for fire suppression systems, such as sprinklers, to be lowered to 18 metres in new residential buildings, down from the current 30-metre limit.
The body, which represents 370 councils and all fire and rescue authorities in England, believes that the current 30-metre threshold is too high given the practicalities of firefighting. The LGA is now calling on the Government to provide funding in the forthcoming Spending Review to help councils fund the related retrospective safety proposals.

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Latest construction output statistics show mixed picture

Construction output increased by 2.8 per cent in the first month of 2019, reversing the sharp decline recorded in December 2018, according to the latest construction output data released on 12 March by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). However, work actually declined in January when calculated on a three-month basis, rather than the more ‘volatile’ monthly series.
This decrease can be attributed to a fall in non-housing and private repair and maintenance work, which fell by 3.2 per cent and 2.3 per cent respectively. Meanwhile, in the fourth quarter of 2018, new orders fell by 1.9 per cent compared to the previous quarter.

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Five local authorities chosen to develop placemaking visions

On 13 March, a new initiative to support high-quality placemaking selected Bradford, Greater Exeter, Great Yarmouth, Gateshead and North Northamptonshire as examples of places creating sustainable environments, delivering positive socioeconomic change and improving community wellbeing.
The five ‘Future Places’ in The Future Place programme will now collaborate with the programme’s partners – which includes the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) and Homes England – to develop their placemaking visions with professional advice and specialist services.

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West Midlands goes for growth

A new investment prospectus for the West Midlands was unveiled by the region’s Mayor, Andy Street, and the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) at MIPIM 2019. The prospectus sets out 24 development opportunities in the region seeking major investment, including Dudley’s Business and Innovation Enterprise Zone, Walsall Town Centre and a 140-hectare development by the UK Central Hub and HS2 Interchange.
Commenting on the prospectus, Mayor Street stated that the West Midlands is the “most promising place to invest in the UK”, and highlighted the region’s rapidly growing youth population and world-class businesses as key draws for investors.

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Retail warehousing market shows resilience in challenging conditions

New research from Savills has revealed that retail park store openings rose above average in 2018, demonstrating the resilience of the out-of-town retail warehousing sector in a challenging market. The research, published on 11 March, showed that 868 units opened last year, compared to the seven-year average of 819.
Furthermore, only 3 per cent of out-of-town units were affected by a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) or administration. Jamie Dunster, head of retail warehouse investment at Savills, predicts that this resilience will attract opportunistic investors this year.

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Councils using new borrowing powers to build social housing

94 per cent of stock-owning local councils are planning to accelerate their housebuilding programmes now that the housing borrowing cap has been lifted, a survey by the Local Government Association (LGA) has found.
Published on 14 March, the survey also revealed that 205 authorities cannot benefit from the new borrowing powers as they no longer own any social housing stock. In total, 92 per cent of councils claimed more Government support is needed to spark a ‘renaissance of social housing’.

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Transport

Birmingham City Council’s Clean Air Zone approved

The Government has approved Birmingham City Council’s plans for a Clean Air Zone, which will help tackle air pollution in the city and ensure it meets legal air quality limits.
The council is offering a range of exemptions to eligible businesses and individuals, including an extension to time allocated for switching to compliant vehicles. This will be supported by £38m from the Government’s Clean Air Fund, which will be used to help mitigate the impacts of the zone.

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New air quality recommendations from PHE

On 11 March, Public Health England (PHE) published a new report – Review of interventions to improve outdoor air quality and public health. It assesses the threat air pollution poses to public health and makes recommendations for how local and national government can counter its effects.
PHE recommends transport and urban planners work together to promote the use of low-emission vehicles, invest in clean public transport, develop housing away from highly polluted roads and discourage highly-polluting vehicles in populated areas.

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Energy and Environment

Environmental headlines from the Spring Statement

As part of the Chancellor’s environmental and clean growth commitments, it was announced that the Government will require all new developments to deliver a biodiversity net gain. The Spring Statement also promised to introduce a Future Homes Standard by 2025, which will mandate new energy efficiency standards and the end of fossil fuel heating systems in new build homes.
The UK Green Building Council commended the Chancellor’s commitment to improving sustainability, but the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) expressed concern that new biodiversity measures could prove costly and cause delays to planning projects.

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Change regulation to increase renewable energy investment

A review of regulatory and procedural ‘hurdles’ is needed to unlock billions of pounds of investment in renewable energy projects, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has said. The ABI, which represents over 250 insurance firms in the UK,
has stated that the ‘existing prudential regime’ for insurers does not reflect insurance’s long-term nature and prevents firms from investing in sustainable projects. It is also calling for the Solvency II, a Directive in EU law working to harmonise Europe’s insurance regulation, to consider this in its’ upcoming Solvency II 2020 review.

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Other News

Retail footfall continues to decline

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has released its retail footfall figures for February, which reveal a continued overall decline across the country’s high streets, retail parks, and shopping centres. With February now the fifteenth month of consecutive decline, the BRC’s chief executive, Helen Dickson OBE,
highlighted more cautious consumer spending in the lead up to Brexit, particularly in bricks-and-mortar stores. No region saw positive growth in shopping centre football in February, but the East Midlands and Wales were the only regions to record notable growth in retail park footfall.

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Report calls for increased competition for tech giants

More needs to be done to regulate online giants and promote competition in the tech industry, a review led by Jason Furman, a former advisor to President Obama, has urged. The report, Unlocking digital competition, was commissioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP,
and calls for a new body to improve competition in the sector and strengthen outdated legislation. Published on 13 March, the report seeks to level the playing field through a number of proposals, including allowing the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to block takeovers that threaten competition or innovation in the market.

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