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Autumn Statement 2022: Planning for green growth

Harry Steele is the RTPI’s Infrastructure Specialist

There has been no shortage of fiscal events this year, with various external and internal forces influencing our economy. The Autumn Statement has been positioned as a response to the current economic instability and forecasted recession. Despite the promises of increased taxes and cuts to services, an ambition for high quality public services was a cornerstone of Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement.

Whilst public services such as the NHS and education were positioned front and centre, planning’s role was instead left for us to read into. Despite this, there was plenty for us to unpack alongside the ongoing Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.  

The current economic context is expected to continue with declining growth rates forecast until mid-2023. With such an emphasis being placed upon the need for growth to stabilise the economy in the face of a recession, there must be an understanding of the foundational role that planning has in driving growth at a local and national level. Whilst the Chancellor highlighted the role of infrastructure as a pivotal factor of growth, there was no mention of the underpinning role of planning.

Whilst significant infrastructure projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, HS2 and East West Rail were further committed to, without being properly aligned with local plans their benefits will not be maximised. Projects such as these have the ability to unlock housing opportunities, drive growth and help deliver the modal shift that can decarbonise surface transport.

However, a fully funded, resourced and engaged planning system can help ease the process, ensuring that energy efficiency is addressed at the earliest possible stage of the planning process.

Following on from the theme of decarbonising transport, Jeremy Hunt outlined a national ambition to reduce energy consumption from buildings and industry by 15% by 2030. The scale of action required in retrofitting existing buildings and ensuring new developments are more energy efficient cannot be understated. However, a fully funded, resourced and engaged planning system can help ease the process, ensuring that energy efficiency is addressed at the earliest possible stage of the planning process.

On the topic of funding, the changes to council tax will allow Local Authorities to raise their council tax rates by up to 3% without a referendum. These changes could aid the easing of pressure on Local Authority budgets, although it is likely that these will cover the rising costs of social care and other areas ahead of planning services. Although there was no specific mention of funding or resourcing the planning system, the step to give Local Authorities more freedom in their own funding is a positive move.

There were further announcements for local democracy, with new devolution deals being announced for Suffolk, Cornwall, Norfolk and an unconfirmed location in “the north”. These new deals, alongside improved arrangements for both the Greater Manchester and West Midlands Combined Authorities and plans for up to half of England to be covered by devolved powers highlight the government’s commitment to local decision making. Having seen the positive benefits that have come from existing devolution deals, we welcome these plans to further devolve decision making and give a greater voice to local communities.

The change in Investment Zones to involve Mayors, devolved administrations, local authorities and other local delivery partners signals another move to a more inclusive and collaborative style of decision making. Both the changes in Investment Zones and devolution indicate towards a greater role for local communities in their built environment. However, if planning is not placed at the heart of these changes, then local communities will not be able to influence the built environment to serve their specific needs.    

Overall, the Autumn Statement highlighted the importance of high-quality public services in challenging times. If we are to recover from the current recession, then planning must be positioned and treated as a high value and high quality public service that can unlock opportunities for green growth.

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