UK: It's A Hard Road - Who Benefits From Autumn Statement

Last Updated: 13 December 2012
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry reports on what yesterday's autumn statement does for infrastructure.

Yesterday, Chancellor George Osborne MP delivered his third autumn statement along with a flurry of other government announcements.


Here is a timeline of the government's infrastructure and growth documentation so far:

Yesterday we got:

Here's a brief report and analysis of what's new for infrastructure.

Spending on infrastructure

In terms of new spending, roads have received the lion's share of new money - nine named projects have received around £800m (Two upgrades of the A1 to motorway standard, upgrades to the M1, M3, M6, M25, M40 and dualling of a section of the A30 in Cornwall and a link from the A5 to the M1), and a further £700m goes on smaller road transport projects.

An extension of the Northern Line on the London Underground to Battersea is to receive a loan of £1bn under the 'UK Guarantees' scheme.

Flood defence schemes get a timely £120m, although this had been announced a week ago.

On energy, the government issued a Gas Generation Strategy yesterday. The government thinks we need significant investment in new gas plant if we are to keep the lights on at an affordable cost. On slightly shakier ground 'this is consistent with the need to decarbonise our economy' because some of it will be replacing coal-fired plants that are worse on the carbon front.

The strategy claims that the government 'have committed to consider improvements to front-loading requirements and provide more clarity on flexibility available for new applications under the Planning Act 2008.' I'm not quite sure what that consists of, unless it is the ability to include alternatives in an application, which has indeed been allowed, at the prompting of National Grid.

On shale gas and the like, the government is to create an Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil (which will presumably be called Off-U-GO).

Policy changes

Policy changes are given a bit of a rest this year - the documents mainly list what's been done rather than what's going to be done. Indeed the Royal Town Planning Institute welcomed the fact that no changes to the planning system were announced.

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), the non-statutory alliances of local authorities and businesses are to be given additional reponsibilities - the autumn statement contains 'the first stage of' the government's response to the Heseltine review, reported here.

LEPs will be asked to develop 'strategic plans for local growth consistent with national priorities'. These would be larger than local, but of course not regional, strategies.

I note in passing that despite the gusto with which regional strategies were to be abolished in July 2010, they are all still in force two and a half years later. Indeed, in a recent planning decision, the Secretary of State decided to give 'limited weight' to his own policy of abolishing the regional strategies - see paragraph 9 of this letter. Perhaps he is finding it quite convenient to have them hanging around.

Each LEP can apply for up to £250k to support the delivery of their plan, and each can nominate one infrastructure project to receive a low-cost loan, up to a total of £1.5bn nationwide.

On planning, the NIP update lists the things that have happened in the last year and those will be familiar to readers of this blog. The only new bits are at paragraph 4.28: 'The Government will consult on updated guidance on conducting environmental impact assessments by Budget 2013, and will consult on raising screening thresholds set out in the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011 later in 2013.'

Progress reporting

The NIP update provides a progress report on the 'Top 40' infrastructure projects and programmes. It is definitely a 'progress' report - no setbacks are mentioned. I've tried to compare the 2011 update with this one but it's apples and oranges. For example for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, the 2011 update said: 'The Government has set out support in principle to provide contingent financial support for exceptional project risks for the Thames Tideway Tunnel where this offers best value for money for customers and taxpayers; 2016: Main construction planned to start (enabling works ahead of this)'.

The 2012 update says: 'Waste Water National Policy Statement approved by Parliament in March 2012; Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Act 2012 received Royal Assent in May 2012; Section 14 Order amending the 2008 Planning Act in June 2012'. Difficult to compare, although I accept that the second step in the latest update roughly corresponds to the first step in the previous one.

The Plan for Growth Implementation Update reports on progress with the actions identified in the Plan for Growth. Actions 31-41 deal with 'infrastructure' and actions 47-64 deal with 'planning'. Nothing particularly notable, except possibly action 59: 'The government will build more flexibility into the major infrastructure planning regime, particularly in working with developers in the pre-application phase. These improvements will be implemented by summer 2012.' The progress refers to the light touch review of guidance, but (a) it hasn't been implemented yet and (b) I wouldn't say it builds more flexibility into working with developers in the pre-application phase.

Finally, action 55 is: 'The government will ensure a fast-track planning process for major infrastructure applications through the Major Infrastructure Planning system', which is identified as 'Complete'. Well that's that, then.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Angus Walker
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