Boris Johnson’s “Build, Build, Build” speech was heavily run in the media over the last couple of days (The Times / The Financial Times). The Number 10 spin machine was comparing the Prime Minister’s proposals to former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal”. Was this going to be the game changing speech that recast Boris Johnson as the new FDR of our time?
Time will only tell if Boris’s “New Deal” speech really is going to be a game changer. But, what we do know is that at the heart of the proposals is a £5 billion infrastructure spending plan to rebuild schools, upgrade transport networks, renovate hospitals, increase broadband connections and expand prisons.
The key measures for the built environment and property sectors are his reforms to the planning system. Johnson claims these are the biggest since World War Two, pledging to build “fantastic new homes”, as well as helping younger people get on the housing ladder.
Dubbed as “project speed,” planning laws are to be streamlined to encourage building and development. From September, vacant shops will be allowed to be converted into homes without planning applications. Builders won’t need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant or redundant residential or commercial buildings, if they are rebuilt as homes. And, existing home owners also get a boost as they will be able to build extensions via a fast track approval process.
He is also pledging to remove red tape saying, “the newt-counting delays in our system are a massive drag on the productivity and prosperity of this country.” The planning policy paper to be unveiled next month will unveil further measures for reform of the planning system, with some commentators speculating that the current system will be replaced with a US style zonal system.
We would need to closely at the details over the coming days and weeks to assess whether these changes really will make a difference but key measures in the £5bn plan include:
- £1.5bn for hospital maintenance
- £83m for maintenance of prisons and youth offender facilities and £60m for temporary prison places
- £900m for “shovel ready” local projects in England this year and in 2021 and £100m for the road network
- £500,000 – £1m for each area in the towns fund to spend on improvements to parks, high street and transport
- Over £1bn to fund a schools building project (which was announced on Monday)
He did try to burnish his green credentials by vowing to “build back greener and build a more beautiful Britain” by planting 30,000 hectares of trees to “enchant and re-energise the soul”. He also set a goal for producing the world’s first zero emissions long haul passenger plane, claiming that the country can be a “science super-power”.
But will this all be enough? With the UK seeing its worst quarterly fall since 1979 with the economy contracting by 2.2% between January and March, will these measures by enough to boost confidence and make a real difference?
In many left behind towns fearing for the worst, the measures may not give as much hope as Number 10 wanted. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer MP pointed out that the contents of the speech were “not much of a deal and not much that’s new”.
The Prime Minister however declared that “we will not just bounce back, we will bounce forward – stronger and better and more united than ever before.”
This speech, though substantial in its own right, is also a prelude to the big speech coming on Wednesday 8 July, when Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivers his economic update “setting out the next stage in our plan to secure the recovery”.
Like the rest of the property sector, we will be watching that one very closely indeed.