As we approach the end of the year, all thoughts of kicking back and enjoying the festive spirit have been on hold whilst we watch the State Opening of Parliament. With infrastructure and devolution high on the political agenda, the Queens Speech is the chance for the Government to set out details on its legislative proposals for the next Parliament.
After six weeks away campaigning around the country, MPs are now back and those new to Westminster will need to hit the ground running as the Government has today set out an ambitious programme. They will have had some clue of what was about to be announced, as much of today’s speech was carried over from Her Majesty’s last speech to Parliament in October.
Once again, infrastructure featured strongly with the further confirmation that the Government will publish a National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS). However, despite the strategy being ready to go in November before the General Election was called, there were no new details. Instead we will likely have to wait until the Budget is called in the Spring, when we also expect the Government to announce the outcome of a spending review. It remains paramount that the strategy presents a long-term and joined-up approach for the nation’s infrastructure networks and adopts in full the recommendations made by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) in its assessment of what is needed.
Elsewhere, the Government restated its commitment to devolve more powers for decision-making and spending at a local level across England. The Government intends to publish a White Paper which will set out their strategy next year. This, alongside the NIS, will be where they set out their plans to deliver on their commitment to increase investment across England’s key regions. In our 2016 State of the Nation policy report on devolution, we set out what Government needed to do in order to improve the quality of local infrastructure to allow towns and cities to thrive. It is crucial that the different levels of decision-making and service delivery are effectively integrated with one another and with strategic developments at the national level.
We also call on Government to re-evaluate the amount of funding that has been devolved to England’s city regions so that they are able to take impactful decisions. This would be in line with NIC’s recommendation for further long-term funding settlements for the city regions which we would expect to be reflected in the NIS. We will provide analysis of what the Government proposals on greater devolution mean for infrastructure once the paper has been published.
It wasn’t all Deja vu for returning MPs, as there were new Bills in there too, including news of a Planning White Paper aimed at supporting the Government to meet a commitment to build at least a million more homes over this Parliament. Alongside this, they set out a plan to introduce a new Single Housing Infrastructure fund with £10bn funding. The Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) can play a key role in ensuring that infrastructure is properly planned, and financed, alongside new developments. However, in our 2019 State of the Nation report: Connecting Infrastructure with Housing, we called for the existing HIF to be extended beyond 2023–24 and importantly moved to a continuous programme of funding, as opposed to defined bidding rounds. We also called for consideration to be given to ring-fencing a specific amount of funding for areas of lower land value to ensure more strategic sites nationwide are unlocked for housing development. It is unclear what the new fund will look like but we will monitor the proposals as more details are made available.
With a majority of 80 MPs, Boris Johnson will be feeling confident that he will be able to make progress with this legislative agenda and get many of these new Bills through Parliament. Whilst the priority over the next month will be ensuring the Withdrawal Agreement is passed by both houses, new MPs are keen to make their mark on issues that affect their constituents. Let’s not forget that pressing decisions and next steps are also required on major infrastructure projects like HS2 and a third runaway at Heathrow.
2020 is set to be a busy year for infrastructure, our policy and public affairs team will keep you updated on all the details as it unfolds.