What the Queen’s Speech means for the north
By Richard Bonner, Northern Cities Executive at Arcadis
The Levelling-up Bill will be one of the flagship bills of the Parliament and it promises to be one of the most controversial, requiring all of Michael Gove’s skills to steer it intact through Parliament. Spanning local government reform, a new local plan process, protection of rights and alfresco dining, the Bill will have something for everyone to get upset about.
Whilst the levelling-up elements of the legislation, including the County Deal devolution and the establishment of levelling-up missions, should proceed reasonably smoothly, some of the proposed planning reforms could be far more challenging.
In particular, the reform to environmental assessment will involve substantial changes to speed-up infrastructure delivery as promised by government in the Energy Security Plan. Reforms to section 106 could also be tricky albeit that consultation has already taken place. By bringing all of these provisions together, Government risks losing the clarity of the Levelling-up mission that was such a vote winner in 2019.
Levelling up and Regeneration Bill
- We want to see the capacity from Government to support additional devolution deals (such as in York / North Yorkshire), as well as enhancing and deepening deals already in place, including in Greater Manchester.
- Local Value Capture is positive, equipping more communities to benefit from the development in their areas. However, the question remains as to whether that is enough to provide necessary social infrastructure such as GP surgeries, schools, transport.
- Measures to speed up planning process and enhancing local powers could be positive, if well implemented creates more local control and delivers housing communities need not what developers want to build.
Support for Business
- In the recent Arcadis International Construction Cost report pointed out, we are seeing significant inflation over the short and medium term, creating many problems in shaping investment decisions.
- We are pleased that there is focus on investment to support productivity. The devil, of course, in the detail but it is vital to secure the productivity gains needed to drive the Northern economy and investment.
- It’s encouraging to see the introduction of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement Scheme, giving more of our citizens the chance to retrain, and improve their skills. We see this as an opportunity to bring more people into the workforce, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, which is critical to improving productivity.
- It is critical that the transition to Great British Railways (GBR) focusses on improving passenger / customer experience and delivers the benefits of more simplified and intuitive ticketing.
- A key measure of success will be how GBR meets the ambition of engaging with local leaders. For example, during the 2018 timetable introduction chaos our metro mayors had very limited ability to engage and address the issues in their metro areas. That needs to be improved so that we coordinate across the systems.
- We note that investment in decarbonisation is included but this needs to be better integrated into the Energy Strategy.
- While the government’s approach to energy transition and security is positive overall, there is no real engagement or strategy on demand reduction, such as in housing, commercial premises, industry and transport, which will be critical to reaching our net zero ambitions.
- The Future System Operator announcement is important to create the modern networks needed to deliver major transitions and to realise the benefits of investments such in offshore wind and hydrogen in the North East or as HyNet in the North West.
Lastly, there has been a lost opportunity in the momentum and support that the Government could offer in maximising the R&D mission and how we can accelerate our innovation hubs by bringing public and private sectors together in places such as Leeds and Manchester.
Overall, the Queen’s Speech announcements felt limited in their scale and ambition. There appeared to be lots of scraps of policy that deals with some of the short-term political necessity, with more detail needed in the Levelling-Up and Regeneration proposals.
Working with businesses and organisations accross the North