Week commencing 8 April 2019

In today's bulletin

• Fresh inquiry launched into planning system
• Minister warns developers over tree netting

• London welcomes world’s most ambitious low emission zone
• More stringent tests for new energy suppliers

Property, Planning and Regeneration

Fresh inquiry launched into planning system

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has launched an inquiry into the housing market and the efficiency of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government following a damning verdict on the planning system by the body responsible for auditing government departments. The National Audit Office’s (NAO) report, published in February this year, found the current Government planning framework cannot demonstrate it is meeting housing demand effectively.
The PAC announced it will interview members of the department on 29 April on how it intends to meet housing targets and what its long-term funding strategy will be to facilitate this.

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Minister warns developers over tree netting

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP has instructed developers to be more mindful of the impact of projects on local wildlife. The call follows growing concerns around the use of netting on nearby trees and hedges ahead of building work and the harmful effects this can have on birds and other wildlife.
In a letter on 8 April, Mr Brokenshire reminded leading housebuilders they have a legal obligation to protect wildlife habitats on their sites and that new development should deliver a biodiversity net gain.

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Planners call for greater say in housing design

The majority of professional planners feel housing design, affordability and connections to infrastructure are all equally important in engendering community support for new development, a survey by the Royal Town Planning Institute has found. In the Design Quality Survey, published on 10 April, planners called for a greater say in housing design alongside national consistency in assessing aesthetic quality.
The report also revealed 86 per cent of respondents want the Government to emphasise the importance of design codes and style guides in planning.

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Church of England forms new housing commission

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, launched a Commission on Housing, Church and Community to explore new approaches for tackling the UK’s housing crisis. Building on the Church of England’s 33,000 existing social action projects, the Commission intends to make recommendations to Government and consider how the Church can play a greater role in strengthening new communities.
Established on 9 April, the Commission will be chaired by Charlie Arbuthnot, an expert in social housing finance, with support from the Right Revd Graham Tomlin, and will also be made up of academics, industry experts and residents.

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Modest growth in construction outputs in February

Construction growth in the UK is still struggling to gain momentum with a modest 0.4 per cent growth in construction outputs in February. The latest Office for National Statistics bulletin showed a 1.1 per cent increase in new work, driven by a fall in the private commercial sector, and a 1 per cent fall in repair and maintenance work.
The latest figures, released on 10 April, also showed a 0.6 per cent drop in the rolling three month figures, largely caused by a significant 2.8 per cent fall in December.

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Spring fails to warm subdued housing market

Demand in the housing market fell across every region of the UK in March as the ‘Brexit impasse’ continued to bite. The latest RICS UK Residential Market Survey, released on 11 April, indicated new instructions and the number of properties coming to market also declined for the fourth consecutive month.
However, while short-term forecasts remain muted, most respondents predicted sales volumes will rise over the course of the year.

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High streets look back on troubling year

2018 saw a record net drop in retail stores on Britain’s top 500 high streets, according to research conducted by PwC and the Local Data Company (LDC). The figures, released on 10 April, show there were 5,833 store closures last year compared with just 3,372 openings – a net decline of 2,481.
This is a drastic increase in closures from an already poor 2017, which saw 1,772 stores cease trading. The highest number of shutdowns came in the banking and financial services sector and most were caused by the prevalence of online alternatives, rising running costs and a lull in spending.

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Government to play match-maker for vacant high street units

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has announced a new scheme that it hopes will transform empty high street shops into community hubs. Launched on 10 April, the Open Doors project will see the Government match public and private landlords with community groups to provide services, such as classes, mentoring, and clubs and societies.
The scheme is to run in partnership with The Meanwhile Foundation and will be trialled initially in Stoke-on-Trent, Rochford, Kettering and Slough.

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London welcomes world’s most ambitious low emission zone

The Greater London Authority has launched what is thought to be the world’s highest vehicle emissions standard. The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which came into force on 8 April, will charge a daily rate to motorists who drive certain vehicles into Central London. While many modern petrol cars already meet the standards, those driving diesel and other non-conforming cars, vans and motorbikes will be charged £12.50 a day, while lorries, buses and coaches will incur £100 a day.
It is hoped the initiative will reduce harmful emissions of nitrogen oxide by 45 per cent in the areas covered by the ULEZ. The Confederation of British Industry welcomed the move as a step in the right direction towards better air quality, but warned the switch to low emission vehicles can be onerous for many small businesses.

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Environmental ambitions failing as number of vehicles rises

The number of vehicles on UK roads had risen to 39.36 million by the end of last year – 83 per cent of which were cars – official figures from the Department of Transport have revealed. Published on 11 April, the data showed an increase of 470,000 vehicles from the previous year.
Just 0.51 per cent of vehicles were classified as ultra-low emission, which the RAC Foundation said demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the Government’s environmental incentives.

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Energy and Environment

More stringent tests for new energy suppliers

Companies applying for a licence to supply energy will have to undergo stricter tests from this June, Ofgem revealed on 11 April. The tests, which will include demonstrating adequate funding and showing intent to provide good customer service, are intended to drive up standards and minimise the effect supplier failure has on consumers.
Ofgem also announced it will consult on further proposals this summer, which will be targeted at those already in the market.

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Crown Estate launches Offshore Wind report

The Crown Estate has revealed a record year for growth in offshore wind projects in its annual Offshore Wind Operational report, published on 11 April. The findings show there are now 1,931 fully operational offshore wind turbines on the UK’s seabed, accounting for 43 per cent of the European total and producing 8 per cent of the country’s estimated electricity generation.
The report also highlighted the completion of the record-breaking Walney Extension project in the Irish Sea, which is now the world’s largest operational wind farm.

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Next generation must use 90 per cent less carbon to save planet

If the world is to meet Paris Agreement commitments to limit global warming to 2⁰C, young people will need to emit as little as an eighth of the average lifetime carbon produced by those born in 1950, according to a report published on 10 April. The analysis from thinktank Carbon Brief looked at two different scenarios – one where global temperature rises meet the 2⁰C maximum target and one where they are limited to 1.5⁰C.
In all eventualities, younger generations will shoulder the burden of using considerably less carbon than their parents and grandparents if the objectives are to be hit.

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Other News

Mood in the UK is low

72 per cent of people think the British system of governing needs significant improvement, according to the latest edition of the Hansard Society Audit of Political Engagement. The report, which assesses the public’s opinions of and satisfaction with the UK’s political institutions, found public confidence is currently lower than at any other time in the 15-year history of the audit.
Further questions discovered 54 per cent of people think Britain needs a strong leader willing to break the rules, while only a quarter of the public had confidence in Parliament’s handling of Brexit.

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