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Autumn Budget: Impact on the built environment

The Autumn Budget brought with it many welcome pledges and some concerning contradictions, all of which will continue to shape all UK towns, cities, infrastructure and the wider built environment. Deputy Managing Director, Chris Evans, shares his thoughts on the Chancellor’s latest budget announcements.

1st November 2018    |     Chris Evans: Deputy Managing Director

Overall the budget, I believe, was a positive one for UK plc, with some extra money and planning measures pledged to deal with the issues in the high street and to help reinvent/revitalise the retail offering. Equally, the residential sector has had a welcome boost which has been previously announced with respect to allowing councils to borrow more to build new council houses. We note also the government’s acknowledgement that the issues of getting more housing started in the UK is not about the developers sitting on huge lumps of land for commercial gain but more likely down to the planning system and its inefficiencies – during my career I have certainly seen first-hand that some councillors are sometimes more interested in protecting their prospects for the next election than in making logical, unbiased decisions!

With respect to the detail of the budget, there are some interesting minor stories including the one relating to the climate change levy which the government is hoping to equalise for gas and electrical rates by 2022.This is due to the continued greening of the grid and will welcome in a new era of energy supply, moving us away from gas over to green electricity which has to be good news.

The cash injection of £90m to create future mobility zones is also a positive move. This no doubt will encompass trials for future strategy and infrastructure for Smart transport solutions which will help shape the future, including modes, services, digital payments and ticketing. The government’s input into this is fundamental to securing the UK’s place as a world leader in the rollout of digital cities, autonomous vehicles and a more inclusive transport solution.

It is good to see £20m of this is in support of the West Midlands Combined Authority mobility data institute and that next year the government will publish a refreshed Midlands Engine Strategy. The government has also confirmed that they will be fully responding to the National Infrastructure Assessment through a National Infrastructure Strategy that will be published in 2019. We look forward to receiving this document, preferably in early 2019 and not the latter half!

The Stephenson’s challenge also has £78m to be targeted at supporting innovation in electric motor technology and reducing vehicle weight, which is welcome news that I am sure Mr Dyson (for one) and his team will be looking at!

Additionally, the budget announced policies that will accelerate innovation and collaboration in utilities regulation. I hope this also encompasses how best to upgrade networks to meet the future demands for battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The Autumn Budget speech in part does seem slightly contradictory, for example, the freezing of fuel duty is at odds with curtailing support for electric and hybrid vehicles and will leave many unsure of the government’s direction on low carbon vehicles which is not a positive move as we seem to have been here before.

What we really need is a long-term, costed, 20-year transition programme to transform the UK’s infrastructure and create a smart grid capable of supporting BEVs.The vision should be to make the UK the world leader in infrastructure development to support our future transport needs. At the moment, the government’s approach is vehicle-led – or in other words, consumer-led – and this means we’re all reacting to market forces rather than collaborating together to achieve a national strategy, leaving a gaping pit in the drive for a sustainable future.

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