Week commencing 27 January 2020

In today's bulletin

• Vicious circle of development must end
• Decision on Bedford-Cambridge rail corridor

• Government returns Environment Bill to the House
• New Commons Committee Chairs announced

Property, Planning and Regeneration

Vicious circle of development must end

The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission has called for greater certainty in the planning system to ensure new development is sustainable and supports the health and well-being of communities. Published on 30 January, the Commission’s final report argues the current system undermines good placemaking and creates a vicious circle that puts planners and developers at loggerheads with politicians and local people.
The report makes a number of recommendations that it claims will speed up the process, reduce opposition to development, and deliver higher quality buildings and environments.

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Government failing on housing targets

There were seven per cent fewer new build starts in the year to September 2019 compared with the previous 12 months, with only 157,550 beginning in that period. The latest Government new build dwellings report, published on 29 January, shows completions rose by nine per cent to 177,980 against a target of 300,000 homes a year.
This is likely to increase the pressure on Government to reduce restrictions on planning and do more to support housebuilding across all tenures.

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Calls for fundamental revamp of planning system

The planning system needs a complete overhaul to deliver housing at the rate and scale needed to address the current crisis, according to Policy Exchange. In a report published on 27 January, the think-tank argues the current system has little relevance to the modern liberal economy and requires structural changes to improve access to property wealth, increase economic competitiveness and encourage climate leadership.
Key recommendations for the revised system include a simplified approach to zoning of land uses and the streamlining of political involvement in plan-making and development control decisions.

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Brexit clarity fails to halt retail market downturn

Greater clarity over Brexit and a suggested ‘Boris bounce’ will not halt the downturn in the retail sector, according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. This was the conclusion of the Institute’s UK Commercial Property Market Survey for the fourth quarter of 2019.
58 per cent more respondents saw a fall rather than a rise in occupier demand for retail space, and a similar number expect rental rates in the retail sector to continue to fall. More positively, the general election appears to have strengthened expectations in the office and industrial sectors, with markets revising up their growth projections.

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Decision on Bedford-Cambridge rail corridor

The preferred route for a new railway line linking Bedford to Cambridge was announced on 30 January by the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP. The new line will form the central section of East West Rail, which is part of the Government’s strategy to support economic and housing growth across the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.
Detailed work will now be undertaken to establish potential route alignments and support a future application for development consent through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project regime.

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New bus passenger markets despite overall decline

The popularity of buses continues to decline across the country, but new markets are emerging, results from the latest Independent Transport Commission report have shown. Published on 27 January, The shape of changing bus demand in England shows the downward trend is driven by a reduction in journeys by traditional markets – pensioners, students, non-car owners and those on lower incomes – while the number of young men using services has grown.
The report also shows an increase in use over the past decade in cities across England by those on higher incomes, which it attributes to investment in new stock and services in those areas.

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Energy and Environment

Government returns Environment Bill to the House

The Government’s Environment Bill was reintroduced to parliament on 30 January following a delay owing to the general election. Included in the legislation is the implementation of legally binding environmental improvement targets, including the requirement for biodiversity net gain and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which would be scrutinised by a new independent Office for Environmental Protection.
The Government has also committed to a regular review of significant developments in environment legislation from across the globe and incorporating best practice into UK legislation.

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Green Alliance criticises government’s slow approach to climate change

The UK will not achieve its net zero targets because major sectors are yet to implement effective strategies to cut their carbon emissions. A new report by Green Alliance, released on 30 January, argues that the Government focus on expanding renewables and phasing out coal is too narrow and calls for transport, building, and industry to make a significant reduction in both energy demand and supply.
Green Alliance has called for an extra one billion pounds per year for the building sector to upgrade low income households and incentivise improvements to existing buildings.

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Other News

New Commons Committee Chairs announced

New Chairs for the House of Commons Select Committees have been announced following elections on 29 January. Select Committees scrutinise the affairs and actions of government departments and hold Ministers to account.
Among those returning as Chairs are Rachel Reeves for the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee; Clive Betts for the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee; and Meg Hillier for the Public Accounts Committee. Huw Merriman was newly elected as Chair of the Transport Committee.

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Cities report calls for greater devolution

In 2018, cities accounted for 52 per cent of the UK’s housing stock, but only 49 per cent of new dwellings. More surprisingly, London only ranks 22nd in the UK for housing stock growth. This is according to the Cities Outlook report 2020, produced by Centre for Cities, which also revealed that London accounts for 23 per cent of the total UK business stock.
The report calls for the Government to go further on devolution and to invest more directly in the regions. It also touches on the growing air quality concerns in cities, arguing for the introduction of more low emission zones and for government to triple the size of the Clean Air Fund to £660 million.

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West Yorkshire in devolution talks

Talks began last week in Leeds on a potential devolution deal for West Yorkshire. The Exchequer Secretary, Simon Clarke, met with leaders of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority on Wednesday 29 January to consider the transfer of specific powers and funding from Westminster to the region.
Any deal would support a future metro mayor covering ten districts around Leeds, including Barnsley, Bradford, Harrogate and York.

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