Categories: Industry News, Thought Leadership
The last few weeks have seen a multitude of announcements that are set to impact the construction industry in a number of ways, with billions of pounds of investment promised for new hospitals, schools, homes, infrastructure projects and job creation.
As well as this, the Prime Minister has also pledged to bring forward the most radical reforms to the planning system since the end of the second world war, beginning with the expansion of permitted development rights, which allow buildings to be repurposed without full planning permission.
Planning at pace
The relaxation of planning rules will make it easier for land and buildings to be converted at pace. The new regulations will allow for buildings and land in town centres to change use without requesting planning consent, while new homes will be able to be created from empty buildings. As an example, struggling high street stores that have been forced to shut their doors permanently due to the coronavirus crisis could be transformed without needing permission from the authorities.
The new rules will also mean that builders will no longer be required to seek permission to demolish and rebuild vacant buildings as long as they are rebuilt as homes. Property owners will also be able to ‘fast track’ approval to build upwards, subject to neighbour consultation.
However, some spaces such as pubs, libraries, village shops and other businesses that are hailed as the "lifeblood of communities" will not be covered by the new flexibilities.
Gerard Toplass, executive chairman, said: "In his speech on Tuesday 30 June, Mr Johnson promised to 'scythe through red tape and get things done' and these changes aim to support the high street revival by allowing empty commercial properties to be quickly repurposed and reduce the pressure to build on green built land by making brownfield development easier.
"But with these changes come some voices of concern, including from experts at University College London who express concern that the new system could lead to ‘rabbit-hutch’ flats being crammed into repurposed office spaces – a concern that has been heightened following recent months and the impact that lockdown has had one those with no access to outdoor space. It will be crucial for developers to follow best practice to ensure that these concerns do not become a reality.”
A break for planning permissions
Planning permissions have also been given a break in the light of COVID-19. Permissions usually expire after three years if the work has not been started, but those sites that have an expiry dates between the beginning of lockdown and the end of 2020 will now be granted an extension to April 2021.
Gerard continued: “Developers will not need to submit a new application where permissions expired the window spanning the beginning of lockdown until the end of 2020, which will greatly reduce costs and time delays for both firms and local planning authorities.
“These changes to the planning system are designed to help meet previous targets and the delivery of promises made during the Conservatives election campaign. It was estimated that by the end of June, planning permissions would have expired for some 24,000 new homes – a huge hit to those election promises.”
A boost for sustainability, skills and the economy
In the emergency summer budget on Wednesday 8 July, the Chancellor confirmed a £3bn green jobs plan, with £2bn being spent to subsidise households to make their homes more energy efficient, and a further £1bn being used to fund the energy efficiency of public sector buildings.
Several incentives were also announced to encourage businesses to retain staff as the furlough scheme winds down over the coming months, and to create new roles for apprenticeships and traineeships.
Gerard welcomed this investment, adding: “Here at Pagabo we are passionate about tackling the skills gap that is continuing to grow within construction, so we’re really pleased to see the initiatives introduced to encourage more companies to take on apprentices and trainees. Not only do we hope that this will help keep the unemployment levels down around the UK, we hope that this will go some way to filling the skills gap in construction and introduce a new generation of people and skills into the industry.
The role of our industry
Gerard continued, saying: “It is however up to those of us already working in the industry to do all we can to make sure that construction is seen not just as a job, but an attractive career option as well – and this is something we are working proactively to do through our Future of Construction campaign.
“These promises show the government’s commitment to ensuring that construction will lead the charge of building back our economy, and with this we have a real opportunity to build back better, build back greener and ‘level up’ the UK – it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it’s crucial we take it to create a better future for the construction sector, our economy and the country as a whole.”
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