Week commencing 13 July 2020

In today's bulletin

• The show must go on, says Government
• Government housing department has been complacent

• Public consultation launched on decarbonising transport
• Government commits over £5 billion to tackle flooding

Property, Planning and Regeneration

The show must go on, says Government

Local authorities must take into account the temporary impact of Covid-19 and not allow it to be used as justification for planning applications to change the use of theatres, concert halls or live music performance venues.
The new planning rule, announced on 12 July by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, follows criticism from the arts industry that the Government’s ‘project speed’, which allows a wide range of commercial buildings to switch to housing without a planning application, would let developers close hundreds of venues.

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Government housing department has been complacent

According to a report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, £7.6 billion of public money has been put into risky commercial property investments by local councils, representing a failure of oversight by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
The report, Local authority investment in commercial property (13 July), recommends MHCLG targets extreme risk tasking with its interventions, undertakes a thorough review of the prudential framework and improves its data on councils’ commercial activity.

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Signs of stability for UK property market

The property sector appears to be returning to normality following a 42 per cent increase in commercial investment activity between May and June 2020, and a stabilisation in the all sector prime yield.
The headline findings come from the latest Market in Minutes: UK Commercial report, published by global property agents Savills on 9 July. It shows that though there is likely to be strong growth in Q3, unemployment is not expected to recover to 2019 levels within the next five years.

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Put affordable homes at the heart of recovery

Affordable and social housing will be vital to a successful recovery from Covid-19 and requires policy support to realise its potential, says a new report by the independent think tank the Affordable Housing Commission. Published on 16 July, Making housing affordable after Covid-19 states that increasing investment for affordable housing will support jobs, help reduce carbon emissions and enhance life chances for those on lower incomes.
The commission has recommended a 12-part housing led recovery plan, which includes extending Help to Buy to existing homes, giving councils more control over Right to Buy, and launching a new ‘Housing Conversion Fund’ for social landlords to buy unsold properties.

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Could car parks solve the housing crisis?

Over 7,500 hectares of under-utilised and publicly-owned surface car parks could be used to build more than two million homes and raise £6 billion for the Treasury in land sales, according to research by Knight Frank.
Commissioned by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and published on 14 July, Knight Frank found that 110,000 new homes could be built on sites that are already well served by public transport.

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Major benefits to large-scale energy efficiency programme

A radical retrofit and low-carbon heat programme could create 325,000 jobs across the UK by 2035, lower energy bills and tackle fuel poverty. These are the findings of the All Hands to the Pump report, published on 15 July by left-wing think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research.
The paper calls for the prioritisation of electric heat pumps, and a blended government and private finance model to fund a major retrofit initiative, arguing that the recent £3 billion government-funded energy efficiency programme for homes and public buildings doesn’t go far enough.

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Public consultation launched on decarbonising transport

The Department for Transport (DfT) is calling for the public to contribute ideas and initiatives that will support the department’s aim to achieve net-zero transport emissions by 2050.
The consultation will close on 31 August 2020, with feedback being used to help shape a Decarbonising Transport Plan which will be published later this year.

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Climate change is harming British railways

Climate change and adverse weather is having an increasingly negative effect on the operation of Britain’s railways, according to the Office for Rail and Road’s annual health and safety report.
Published on 14 July, the report shows a 400 per cent increase in earthwork failures and trains striking trees over the past 12 months, which can be attributed largely to significantly increased incidences of flooding. The report adds Network Rail’s current plans to tackle the impact of climate change on the railways do not fully address the issue.

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Energy and Environment

Government commits over £5 billion to tackle flooding

The Environment Agency (EA) has published its new plan to manage flood risk, detailing how £5.2 billion will be invested to create 2,000 new flood and coastal defences for over 300,000 households in England by 2027.
Published on 14 July, the paper points to the EA’s plans to plant trees and restore peatlands and wetlands to reduce flood risk while delivering benefits for nature and communities. The policy aims to ensure every area of England has a comprehensive local plan for dealing with flooding and coastal erosion.

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Consultation on biological treatment of waste

The Government is asking for comments from the public on its proposed guidance for the biological treatment of waste.
The new document from the Environment Agency will replace previous guidance from 2013 and aims to improve the operations of permitted facilities in the sector, while ensuring that appropriate measures are applied consistently. The consultation will close on 21 August 2020.

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Councils should map plans against UN Sustainable Development Goals

UK councils should engage more closely with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals by linking them to their medium-to-long-term strategic plans, according to a report published by the Local Government Association and the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development.
Released on 17 July, the report includes a guide for this process and argues that the goals can provide a useful framework for local authorities’ overall strategy. Furthermore, it states that the front-line status of UK councils puts them in a unique position to act upon these aims.

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