United Kingdom

The UK government moves infrastructure and greening the built environment to the top of its agenda

United Kingdom Publication July 2020

In the wake of COVID-19 there has been a slowdown in the economy. Due to this, the government has been announcing various initiatives to stimulate the economy and the construction industry is set to be a key player in the country’s recovery.

In June, for example, the UK government revealed its £37 billion (US$45.9bn) infrastructure procurement portfolio for the year 2020-21. The portfolio comprises of 260 projects which will involve around 340 procurements. Projects that have already been awarded contracts and ones in early stages of procurement are not included in the projection.

The Government’s ambition to continue investing in the country’s infrastructure was set out at Budget 2020 and is reaffirmed by the scale of procurements included in this pipeline. Between £29 billion and £37 billion of contracts across economic and social infrastructure will be brought to market over the next year.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, followed the budget announcement by revealing reforms to the planning system, which aim to provide buildings in town centres the ability to change use without planning permission.

Under the proposed rules, existing commercial properties will be able to be converted into residential housing more easily. The proposed changes are designed to aid the construction industry and kick start rebuilding following many commercial units becoming vacant as a consequence of the pandemic.

A summary of the proposed changes are as follows:

  • A wider range of commercial buildings will be allowed to change to residential use without the need for planning permission.
  • More types of commercial premises will have total flexibility to be repurposed through reform of the Use Classes Order.
  • Building contractors will no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are to be rebuilt as homes.
  • Property owners will be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation

The proposed changes are scheduled to be implemented by September. It is the Government’s hope that these proposed changes will support the high street revival by allowing empty commercial properties to be quickly repurposed and reduce the pressure to build on green field land by making brownfield development easier.

Alongside the proposed permission changes the Prime Minister also announced, a cross-government strategy which will look at how public sector land can be managed so it can be put to better use.

Finally, on July 8, 2020, in another effort to stimulate the construction sector and the economy, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced a £3bn package of green investment to decarbonise public buildings and cut emissions from poorly insulated homes as part of the government’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that the package will enable an environmentally friendly revival through the creation of thousands of green jobs in the construction industry which will also aid the UK in meeting its target of being a carbon net zero economy by 2050. Of the £3bn, £1bn is to be earmarked to improve the energy efficiency of public buildings such as schools and hospitals and consequently to reduce carbon emissions, while £50m will be set aside for decarbonising social housing.

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