House building, national infrastructure and the environment are all at the front line of the Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats 2019 UK general election manifestos. Here, we highlight these and other main points of interest for the Planning sector to consider.
Green belt and development sites
Both Labour and the Conservatives pledge to prioritise brownfield sites for development, with the latter focusing on ‘the regeneration of our towns and cities’. Protection of the Green Belt is also promised by both. Labour also promise "a review of the planning guidance for developments in flood risk areas”. The Lib Dems make no mention of either of these issues, and no party makes substantive fiscal or monetary commitments as to how they will deliver their claims.
Permitted Development Rights (“PDR”)
Both Labour and the Lib Dems promise to scrap permitted development rights for office-to-residential conversions in the name of protecting high street and town centres. The Lib Dems would do the same for retail conversions.
The Conservatives have not addressed PDR but they have mentioned giving councils “greater powers within the planning system” and to "ask every community to decide on its own design standards for new development, allowing residents a greater say on the style and design of development in their area, with local councils encouraged to build more beautiful architecture". All parties refer to improving building safety standards, although no party clearly identifies how they will raise the quality of new homes through the planning system.
The Conservatives are promising an ‘infrastructure revolution’ if they are elected for another term. Delivering on The Northern Powerhouse Rail, the Midlands Rail Hub and funding train lines to the South West and East Anglia, as well as the West Wales Parkway Station, would achieve this promise. Whilst the Conservatives are cautious on the future of HS2 (pending reception of the Oakervee review), Labour take the view that they will complete the full HS2 route to Scotland. Labour will also introduce a long-term investment plan including delivering Crossrail for the North as part of improved connectivity across the northern regions, promote rail use as part of their carbon emission reductions programme, and set up a publicly owned rail company that will take decisions on the future of the network.
Only Labour and the Lib Dems commit to Crossrail 2, and the Conservatives are the only party to give backing (in principle) to Heathrow expansion – albeit admitting that the scheme will receive no new public money.
Whilst the Conservatives promise full fibre and gigabit broadband for domestic and commercial properties by 2025 (backed by £5bn of public funding), the Lib Dems pledge £2bn for fibre-optic broadband and make no time commitments. Labour departs from the others on this theme and commits to establishing ‘British Broadband’, with two arms: British Digital Infrastructure (BDI) and the British Broadband Service (BBS). This organisation would deliver free full-fibre broadband to all by 2030, funded by taxation of ‘tech giants’.
No party mentions making changes to relevant planning regulations (i.e. to PDRs to support deployment of broadband in rural areas) in order to achieve these pledges.
Whilst Labour commits to investing in neglected local roads, pavements and cycleways safer, and the Lib Dems say they will ensure housing developers contribute to roads, only the Conservatives specifically commit to updating the A55 as the main road transport artery for North Wales, and delivering the M4 relief road.
4. Additional infrastructure spending
The Lib Dems would invest £130bn in infrastructure covering transport and energy systems, schools, hospitals and homes, and introduce a capital £50bn Regional Rebalancing Programme for infrastructure spend across the UK reinforced by a Just Transition Fund, that would aim to support communities negatively affected by policies to tackle the climate emergency.
Labour commits to a raft of additional funds for infrastructure projects, and to the establishment of various overseeing bodies. This includes setting up a National Transformation Fund of £400bn alongside guaranteeing the money is spent in line with their climate and environmental targets. Of this, £250bn will ‘directly fund the transition through a Green Transformation Fund’. Labour will also create a National Investment Bank, supported by a network of Regional Development Banks, to provide £250bn of lending for enterprise, infrastructure and innovation over 10 years.
All of this investment will be overseen and co-ordinated by a Sustainable Investment Board (consisting of the Chancellor, Business Secretary and Bank of England Governor).
The Conservatives offer £100bn additional infrastructure spending, including £4bn for flood defences, £28.8bn in strategic and local roads, and £1bn in a fast charging network for electric vehicles; create a new £350 million cycling infrastructure fund. Whilst it is not quantified in the manifesto, they will also fund improvements to regional bus, tram and train services with a focus on coastal towns.
1. Clean energy
All three parties pledge substantial programmes of clean energy infrastructure construction with set deadlines, including offshore and onshore wind turbine farms and tidal energy.
Labour introduces a controversial plan to use a windfall tax on oil and gas to re-skill workers for green energy projects. They would also bring energy networks and the supply arms of the largest energy companies into public ownership.
Whilst all three parties undoubtedly have significant green energy investment plans, they do clash on how they would fund and manage electricity infrastructure.
The Conservatives’ first budget would ‘prioritise the environment’ and highlights include setting up a £640 million new Nature for Climate Fund and a new £500 million Blue Planet Fund to help extend the Blue Belt programme. Labour would set up a Green Transformation Fund dedicated to ‘renewable and low-carbon energy and transport, biodiversity and environmental restoration’, and a £400bn National Transformation Fund focusing on reaching their ambitious environmental spending targets. The Lib Dems claim that they will provide an additional £12bn of funding in 5 years to support their renewable energy commitments.
2. Regulatory reform
The Conservatives’ Environment Bill would ‘guarantee’ that they would ‘protect and restore our natural environment after leaving the EU’. There would be a new independent Office for Environmental Protection, and an additional 75,000 acres of trees a year by the end of the next Parliament. They intend to ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries, increase penalties for fly-tipping, introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic and glass, and ‘extend producer responsibility’.
Labour would introduce a new Climate and Environment Emergency Bill, “setting outing in law robust, binding new standards for decarbonisation, nature recovery, environmental quality and habitats and species protection”. Further to this, their manifesto says that they would "put the voices of local people at the heart of planning" and would "rebalance power in the planning system by giving local government greater freedom to set planning fees and by requiring the climate and environmental emergency to be factored into all planning decisions”.
The Lib Dems do not commit to a specific legislative programme, but do mention that they would ‘accelerate to transition to ultra-low emission transport through taxation subsidy and regulation’. All three parties refer to overhauling commercial and residential building standards to ensure more effective heating of homes.
All three parties commit to specific housebuilding targets, and Labour and the Conservatives specifically commit to deliver homes at discounted costs. The Conservatives pledge to give local councils powers to discount new homes for ‘local people’ who ‘would cannot otherwise afford to buy in their area’ by a third, via the planning process (detail is not given on at what stage of how this would work in practise). They make no significant commitment to build more social homes in these rural communities, however. Labour would require developers to contribute to building 50,000 cut price homes for those on low incomes within the first 5 years of a parliamentary term, whilst linking the prices to local incomes.
Whilst the Lib Dems focus in on building 300,000 homes a year by 2024, ‘including 100,000 social homes’, they do not set out if this would incur alterations to the planning system, but instead focus on reforming energy efficiency in building standards, and requiring developers to ‘provide essential local infrastructure from affordable homes to schools, surgeries and roads alongside new homes’.