One-year business rates discount + ratings holiday and reform

We on this side of the House are clear that reckless, unfunded promises to abolish a tax which raises £25bn every year are completely irresponsible. It would be wrong to find £25bn in extra borrowing, cuts to public services, or tax rises elsewhere, so we will retain business rates.”

What’s the opposite of music to one’s ears? Possibly the cacophony of groans you could hear up and down Berkeley Square and across St James’ Park from Redwood’s Victoria-based office. Whilst this jibe was targeted at the Labour frontbench, property experts who have been offering alternative funding solutions to successive government consultations and select committee inquiries will no doubt take it personally.

None of the reports on the Future of the High Street from Mary Portas, John Timpson, Bill Grimsey and the Housing, Communities and Government Select Committee suggest extra borrowing or cuts to public services. Indeed, even the tax rises suggested, such as those on VAT or online sales, respond to changing habits that will only become starker if action is not taken now.

Whilst the one-off 50% business rates discount for retail, leisure and hospitality sectors will be welcomed, years of consultation and promises of fundamental reform appear to have made only the smallest of dents in the British property industry’s bête noire.

What’s more, as Mark Williams, executive director at Rivington Hark and former President of Revo, has pointed out in The Guardian, given most towns and cities are occupied by multiples, their discount is limited to £110,000 – meaning the Chancellor’s discount will be “a drop in the ocean” for the UK’s retail chains.

£1.8bn to deliver homes on brownfield and ‘underused’ land (160,000 new homes)

Voters love brownfield land almost as much as they do the green belt – just for very different reasons. Successive Conservative governments, from Cameron to May and through to Johnson, have pointed to brownfield sites as the key to unlocking a house-building revolution.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) unsurprisingly welcomed £1.8bn in funding to “regenerate underused land and deliver transport links and community facilities” which, the government says, could deliver 160,000 new homes in total. The CPRE believes that this has the “potential to breathe new life into long forgotten and derelict areas of our towns”, but the industry’s response has been more muted.

Whilst no one opposes this announcement, as with every Budget, the key is whether it is enough to deliver, especially after over a decade of promises.

Only time will tell.

£65m for digital planning system

Victoria Hills, Chief Executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), welcomed the investment, which exceeded the £46m the RTPI previously called for as part of a Digital Transformation Fund. But the investment is still short of the £500m over four years that the Institute has estimated is required to produce a more efficient planning system that is “capable of rising to the challenge of England’s housing shortage.”

Indeed, we are not even sure what this investment will be targeted at, with a comment shared with Planning Resource by the Treasury stating that the newly created Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC*) would provide further details “in due course.”

Watch this Planning for the Future White Paper consultation response-shaped space…

*Michael’s Gove’s ‘new’ department does not easily roll off the tongue, especially in acronym form. But rumours are abound that those within the Ministry are now referring to 2 Marsham Street as…Deluxe (DLUHC). We’ll see if it sticks…

The best of the rest

A £9m Levelling Up Parks Fund may not be the Chancellor’s sexiest announcement, but it will provide an average of £90,000 to 100 local authorities to invest in urban pocket parks. This kind of focused funding can make all the difference come election season, as many voters focus on what they can see on a local level, as opposed to the national picture.

Sunak also confirmed £11.5bn in funding for 180,000 affordable homes, of which £7.5bn would be invested between 2022-2025.