The Queen’s Speech: what it meant for the North

The Government wanted this week’s Queen’s Speech to highlight its commitment to social justice reforms. It is clear, though, that the Northern Powerhouse has not been forgotten, as many of the measures reflect a desire to accelerate devolution to local authorities, and plans to get Britain building. For people worried by the apparent relegation of the Northern Powerhouse to a brief mention and a published list of previous achievements, an examination of the spirit behind many of the proposed bills should provide reassurance that the vision is alive and well.

It was announced that the new Bus Services Bill will give elected mayors and local transport authorities the power to improve bus services for local people by franchising services. Continuing on the theme of devolved powers and local authorities, it was pledged that the Local Growth and Jobs Bill will allow local authorities to retain 100% of their business rates which can then be used to support business and develop local economies, a welcome boost for the first batch of elected metro-mayors.

To speed up housebuilding, further funds have been made available including £1.2bn to remediate brownfield land and a £3bn home building fund to unlock a pipeline of up to 200,000 homes. All of this pleased the Royal Town Planning Institute, which welcomed “the Government’s commitment to housebuilding in England… Investing £100bn in key infrastructure projects is good news and crucially should be planned and coordinated in order to support economic growth”. The National Infrastructure Commission, which provides strategic advice to the government on the UK’s infrastructure needs, will also be put on a statutory basis: a move designed to minimise the politics in major infrastructure.

However, the biggest announcement for the housing industry was the introduction of the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill, with a commitment to ensure that pre-commencement planning conditions are only imposed by local authorities when absolutely necessary. At present, the overuse of such conditions is delaying new developments and it is clear that the Government wishes to remove such barriers to achieve the target of one million new homes by 2020. In terms of neighbourhood planning, local communities will be given additional powers to influence developments in their area, strengthening the requirement for local government to support neighbourhood groups. However, will this make development and housebuilding easier or will it represent a further obstacle? Given the trend towards community empowerment, it is now more important than ever to undertake pre-application consultation and stakeholder engagement.

Although the speech marks a further step forward in the Conservatives’ plan to build a legacy for themselves from housing and the Northern Powerhouse, it is unlikely to gain any real traction until after the EU referendum on the 23 June.

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