Week commencing 20 April 2020

In today's bulletin

• Landlords banned from evicting struggling businesses
• Road closures to help communities exercise

• UK net emissions down by 1.9 per cent
• 80 per cent decrease in retail footfall

Property, Planning and Regeneration

Landlords banned from evicting struggling businesses

Until 30 June, no landlords will be able to use statutory demands or winding up orders if a company is unable to pay its bills due to the impact of Covid-19. The announcement was made on 23 April by the business secretary, the Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, who asked occupiers and landlords to work collaboratively to find alternative solutions or agreements.
Mr Sharma explained that the issue of whether a business’ inability to pay is actually due to Covid-19 will have to be reviewed by a court in each case if disputed.

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Inquiry into local authority property investment

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has launched an inquiry into local authority commercial property acquisitions. The inquiry, which is accepting evidence from 20 April to 11 May, follows publication in February of a National Audit Office (NAO) report into local authority commercial investment and the ability of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to oversee their financial security.
The NAO determined that local authorities’ borrowing habits and an increase in out-of-area commercial property acquisition too severely impacted the effectiveness of MHCLG’s oversight.

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CBI calls for business rates suspension

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has urged Government to suspend business rates and use German or Swiss bureaucratic systems to streamline delivery of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).
The CBI called for the measures to support struggling firms, safeguard jobs and livelihoods, and keep the British economy in a strong position to quickly gain momentum after the Covid-19 emergency has ended. Data from CBILS, published 23 April, shows that only 16,000 firms have so far benefitted from the scheme from over 36,000 that have applied.

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No easy recovery for construction

Returning to the levels of productivity recorded at the end of 2019 will take some time for the building industry, with workloads, employment and profit margins all expected to fall in the coming year. This is according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS’) quarterly UK Construction and Infrastructure Market Survey, published 23 April.
Sector expectations for the next year were at a decade low of minus 23 per cent for quarter one, declining steeply shortly after the lockdown was announced. RICS has called on the Government to reopen non-essential building sites that are able to comply with strict safety measures.

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Place-focused planning system for post-Covid Britain?

Proposed planning reforms will not help deliver the Government’s objectives, according to a Royal Planning Town Institute (RTPI) report published on 23 April, as they are based on false assertions about the current system. The RTPI acknowledges that the Government’s current priorities, including building sustainably and affordable housing, are important, but identifies five more that should be included in the upcoming Planning White Paper.
The report argues that a digitised, place-based planning system, which emphasises climate issues and is clearer in its processes, will more successfully advance the Government’s levelling up agenda and make planning accessible to more people.

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Boom in build-to-rent

The number of build-to-rent homes complete, under construction or in planning across the UK in 2019 / 2020 has jumped by 12 per cent compared with the same period last year, according to research conducted by Savills for the British Property Federation (BPF).
Published on 20 April, the research shows that the sector is particularly strong outside London, where a sharp decline in the number of homes in planning is in contrast to a robust pipeline across the regions. The report also suggests there may be a rise in demand for build-to-rent as the buy-to-let sector constricts in response to Covid-19.

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Road closures to help communities exercise

On 21 April, the Department for Transport published revised guidance for local councils on continuing with traffic orders amid Covid-19 restrictions. Brought forward partially in response to campaigning for road closures while social distancing and travel restrictions are in place, the guidance confirms that local authorities have the power to instigate temporary cycle lanes or footpaths.
Brighton & Hove City Council has already closed a major seafront road for outdoor exercise and other local authorities are exploring ways to open up urban spaces.

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Lowest carbon emissions on UK roads

A surge in ownership of green vehicles resulted in carbon emissions on UK roads reaching a record low in 2019, according to the UK’s largest automotive body. Published on 21 April by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the figures show a one per cent overall increase in the number of registered vehicles, with 19 per cent of new cars either ultra-low or zero emission.
The figures also show a record number of vans on UK roads – over 4.5 million – which SMMT attributed to a huge increase in demand for online deliveries.

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Energy and Environment

UK net emissions down by 1.9 per cent

UK net greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 decreased by 1.9 per cent from the previous years’ figures, according to the latest annual emissions statement published by the Government’s energy department.
Published on 22 April, the statement sets out the total net emissions that are credited to the UK carbon account in 2017 and 2018, including any adjustments from the EU carbon trading scheme. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s annual figures show an increase in emissions from international aviation, while emissions from international shipping are down.

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Innovate to save the climate

A consumer survey by the Government’s energy advisors shows that most people know about climate change and want to do their part, but only a minority know how to effectively adapt to a low carbon lifestyle. Published on 17 April, research by the Energy Systems Catapult finds that heating, transport and diet are the three key areas in which an individual can make a change.
The report argues most people will not make a behavioural change until there are easy alternatives to our habits, although innovations prompted by the current lockdown could help bring new low carbon solutions.

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Other News

80 per cent decrease in retail footfall

Retail footfall fell by 83.2 per cent in the first two weeks of lockdown and contributed to a record 44.7 per cent reduction across March, figures from the UK’s retail trade association have revealed. Published on 20 April, the British Retail Consortium’s calculations provide statistical evidence of what it calls the “artificial” impact of Covid-19 on footfall to the UK’s high streets and shopping centres.
The figures show retail parks experienced the smallest decline in footfall, which was attributed to more circulation space and an increased presence of supermarkets.

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Record reduction in manufacturing and service sector output

Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc in the private sector. Published on 23 April, the latest IHS Markit/CIPS Composite Purchasing Manager’s Index revealed coronavirus is responsible for the biggest monthly decline in manufacturing and services activity on record, greater than the impact of the 2008 financial crisis.
Despite the general gloom, the report also revealed that online retail and the public sector are seeing “sporadic growth”, and that suppliers of essential services (food, drink, and medical) are all recording output growth.

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