The Spring Statement is meant to be one of the year’s two set-piece fiscal events; this week’s ran the risk of being forgotten before Philip Hammond had resumed his place on the green benches. In the context of the “cloud of uncertainty hanging over our economy,” to borrow a phrase from the Chancellor, running the rule over the national books may seem of comparatively little consequence. Growth is slowing, but still there, and the government is on course to meet most of its fiscal targets (though the deficit stubbornly remains). But with Brexit potentially imminent and its form far from certain, today’s forecasts may be out of date by the end of the week, never mind the month.

Despite the tricky timing, there were some announcements that will affect the property sector. These included:

  • A £3bn Affordable Homes Guarantee scheme to support the delivery of around 30,000 affordable homes
  • £717m from the Housing Infrastructure Fund to unlock up to 37,000 new homes in West London, Cheshire, and at either end of the Oxford-Cambridge arc
  • New planning guidance to promote more and different housing types on large housing sites, to improve build-out rates
  • Moves to introduce a requirement that new development improves biodiversity, rather than just not harming it
  • Work on a Green Paper to speed up the planning process through extra capacity and better procedures

The Written Ministerial Statement that contains more detail than the Chancellor’s speech sets out several new consultations that businesses might want to respond to in the coming months:

  • On Planning Reform, including greater change of use powers and new permitted development rights to extend buildings upwards for new homes
  • On Planning for Future High Streets, to help local areas use ‘innovative planning measures’ to support their local high streets
  • On the Financial Services regulatory framework, and in particular how we combine stability, effective regulation and democratic accountability as the UK becomes responsible for its own financial regulations

The elephant in the room

But what of Brexit? This week’s votes have continued to demonstrate that Parliament knows what it doesn’t want (no deal), but cannot agree what it does. The EU has been clear that it does not want to extend the negotiations without knowing what the UK wishes to achieve.

The Chancellor emphasised that no deal would mean “higher unemployment, lower wages, higher prices,” despite the Treasury and the Bank of England making preparations to mitigate any damage. We will see whether Mr. Hammond’s call for MPs to ‘seize the opportunity’ and ‘[build] consensus across this House’ around an approach to Brexit is heeded. Without fresh thinking, the no-deal Brexit that business is so keen to avoid looms large, which would leave the Chancellor with a real headache when he comes to write November’s Budget…