Get the diggers in, Prime Minister urges

Boris Johnson has pledged £5bn for UK infrastructure, including unlocking the central Manchester rail bottleneck, as well as schools, hospitals and other ‘shovel-ready’ projects, to help Britain bounce back from the “economic reverberations” of Covid-19. 

In addition to the Manchester project, the funding roadmap includes £5m to help make Liverpool’s main roads network more resilient, according to a statement from the Department for Transport after Johnson’s speech.

The prime minister said this morning that Government would speed up development by “scything through the bureaucratic red tape” of the planning system, in what he described as the most radical reform of the planning process since the end of World War Two. 

He also promised to build more homes, plant 30,000 hectares of trees each year and “address intergenerational injustice” to help young people get on the property ladder. 

Around £900m will be invested in ‘shovel-ready’ local growth projects in England over the course of 2020 and 2021. 

A further £96m will be invested in the £3.6bn Towns Fund, awarding all 101 towns selected for town deals with between £500,000 and £1m to spend on projects such as improvements to parks, high streets and transport. 

The £5bn investment package includes: 

  • £1.5bn this year for hospital maintenance and expansion
  • £100m this year for 29 projects road improvement projects
  • More than £1bn to fund the first 50 projects of a 10-year school rebuilding programme, starting from 2020-21. Construction on the first sites will begin from September 2021.
  • £560m to upgrade schools and a further £200m for further education colleges
  • £285m to upgrade courts and prisons

Commentators from across the North West development industry welcomed the package but called for additional resources and powers to support the project pipeline.

Jessica Bowles, director of strategy for Manchester-based developer Bruntwood, said: “For our regional economies, it’s about powers as well as pounds. Further devolution is mission-critical to ensuring the Government’s investment in recovery is effective and long lasting.”

She added: “Many city regions, like Liverpool and Greater Manchester, have been preparing long-term recovery plans for how they’d use new funding, and flex existing funds, to create sustainable growth and jobs.

“Local decisions, with public and private sector working together, will guarantee a better return on investment.”

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said the plan lacked firepower. He said: “This was billed as the launch of a ‘new deal’ by the prime minister but it probably needs bigger rockets if it is going to truly take off.

“I was pleased to see more devolved funding for both brownfield development and infrastructure schemes and that the prime minister restated his commitment to levelling up [the regions].

“However, overall the scale of the package amounted to far less than the new deal we were promised in advance – £5bn sounds a lot but when it’s spread over a couple of years and the whole country, it won’t go far at all.”

Barry White, chief executive of Transport for the North, said he wanted greater financial commitment to specific Northern transport schemes. “Building back better for the North means committing to a northern infrastructure pipeline of road and rail schemes, and we have already written to the transport secretary on this, setting out our proposals for an economic recovery plan for the North,” he said.

“The road and rail schemes supported in today’s announcement are essential pieces of the puzzle for improving connectivity across our region, and must be supported by commitment to both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in full, as well as the northern infrastructure pipeline projects we are recommending.”

Paul Smith, managing director of Strategic Land Group, welcomed the planning reforms. “It is absurd that the planning system is the only part of the post-war consensus that hasn’t been fundamentally reformed,” he said.

“The key to boosting housing supply is making more land available, which would force developers to compete on quality rather than just location.

“Changing the way planning operates, so that it attempts to work with and guide the forces that have delivered our towns and cities for centuries, rather than commanding developers what to do, needs to be central to the new reforms.”

Meanwhile, Bill Davidson, director of P4 Planning, said: “The energy and commitment being shown by the Government is to be commended, but it mustn’t be taken as ‘build anything, build anywhere, now’.

“There has to be increased focus on tackling climate change and a critical priority is to nurture and encourage recovery in our high streets.

“The retail and evening economies, arts and culture, have been hit particularly hard and need the support of the planning system and our elected leaders if it is to rejuvenate and thrive.”

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