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Looking into the Budget tea leaves

Looking into the Budget tea leaves

Ciaran Gunne-Jones 05 Mar 2020
​See Lichfields' "Budget 2020 - getting it done" Economic outlook for  reactions and analysis of Rishi Sunak's first Budget speech.  Rishi Sunak’s ministerial red box was already overflowing when he took office last month – handed the keys to Number 11 at short notice following the resignation of Sajid Javid – and it has been a tumultuous three weeks since. With coronavirus now weighing down heavily on the global economic outlook, the early tetchy stages of the UK’s negotiations with the European Union on future trade underway, and speculation of interest rate cuts later this year, the Chancellor may well be turning to his preferred brand of Yorkshire tea leaves for guidance.   Given the macroeconomic uncertainties, HM Treasury officials are reported as saying that next week’s Budget will be the first installment in a “trilogy” of statements this year – something for the aficionados to relish. Some decisions on tax, spending and borrowing are likely to be pushed back to the autumn, a year after last November’s Budget was itself postponed due to the general election. However, the Budget is one of the key set pieces of the parliamentary calendar, and is particularly important in the context of a new government keen to deliver quickly on its manifesto promises. So what might the Chancellor’s red box hold in terms decisions on planning, infrastructure and regional economic policy? Here’s a round-up of 10 key points to look out for next Wednesday: Economic growth – tea leaves aside, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) – the independent fiscal watchdog – will publish its latest UK economic forecasts alongside the Budget. It is widely expected that the OBR will downgrade their forecasts from those published in March 2019. This matters because it would result in higher forecasts for government borrowing and, in theory, give less bandwidth to increase public spending if the Chancellor also wants to limit tax increases in line with manifesto commitments. ‘Levelling up’ – the phrase that featured prominently in the Conservative election campaign, and is already permeating into the policy sphere (seemingly replacing the ‘rebalancing’ lexicon which became popular in the Osborne and Hammond eras). The Queen’s Speech in December referred to making investments, “in order to unleash productivity and improve daily life for communities across the country.” Following success in breaking the so-called ‘Red Wall’ in the North and Midlands, the government have been clear that levelling up will be a key factor in all future policy and decision-making, so we can expect this theme to be writ large. Practically, this could extend to creating a new hub for HM Treasury officials on Teesside. Revisions to the Green Book – the ‘Green Book’ (HMT’s guidance for appraising public spending decisions) was an unlikely media star over the quiet Christmas news cycle when it was reported that significant revisions are in the works aimed at boosting investment in the North and Midlands. We considered the implications in an earlier blog. The Budget will provide an opportunity for the Chancellor to set out the details on how this will work in practice, but clarity about how decisions on local infrastructure spending will be decided will be keenly sought from both north and south. Devolution White Paper – government has committed to publishing a Devolution White paper, promising a review of more directly elected mayors in the mould of the Metro Mayor, and the possibility of more combined authorities and unitary authorities. These policies reflect wider effort to devolve decision-making to the local level. The future of sub-national partnerships such as the Northern Powerhouse, Midlands Engine and Oxford-Cambridge corridor will also depend on any funding and powers devolved to them over the next few years. Planning White Paper – in the works since being first announced by Theresa May in March 2019, and now anticipated around the time of the Budget or shortly thereafter. A recent Ministerial Written Answer confirmed, “the purpose of the White Paper will be to make the planning process clearer, more accessible and more certain for all users, including homeowners and small businesses. It will also address resourcing and performance in Planning Departments.” It remains to be seen what influence Jack Airey’s (co-author of Policy Exchange’s report in January on ‘Rethinking the Planning System’ for the 21st Century’) recent appointment as No. 10 housing and planning adviser will have on policy proposals. Local Industrial Strategies – Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) across the country have been busy preparing their local response to the national Industrial Strategy since 2018 through the form of Local Industrial Strategies (LIS). So far, seven LIS have been agreed and published but some thirty remain in the pipeline still to be agreed with central government. At the very least, an extension to the deadline for nationwide coverage by March 2020 seems inevitable – or potentially a shift to something different as has been rumoured. The Budget could usefully provide some clarity. Big infrastructure – the recent confirmation of HS2 might signal that the government is moving towards funding big ticket infrastructure investment, relaxing its fiscal rules. Eyes will be on the Budget to see whether this is backed with investment for Northern Powerhouse Rail and an indication on the future of the Oxford-Cambridge growth corridor. A further indication of the priorities of this government might be its omission of major road investment announcements (so far transport infrastructure spending announced has been for trains, busses and cycling), but this will need squaring with the legally-binding target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Research and development – in the spirit of levelling up, the Prime Minister and his Special Adviser Dominic Cummings are looking closely at R&D funding nationally, pointing out that more than half of the national gross domestic expenditure on R&D is spent in London, the South East, and East of England. This might be through investing into nationally-significant hubs like the “MIT for the North” and the Midlands “Gigafactory”. Options include strengthening the existing Catapult Centres, National Productivity Investment Fund and Strength In Places funds, or through new initiatives. UK Shared Prosperity Fund – further detail on the plans to replace the £2.1billion EU structural and investment funding, the proposed UK Shared Prosperity Fund, is long awaited. A consultation period is expected before the fund kicks in. While the fund is committed to tackling inequalities between communities by raising productivity in areas of the country that are ‘furthest behind’, clarity is needed to ensure local authorities have certainty over long term funding arrangements in order to effectively plan for future interventions. Freeports – a key policy for government, given the aspirations for global trade following Brexit. They will operate similarly to enterprise zones but specifically for port areas, in which goods are only charged tariffs when they leave the freeport area. With a 10-week consultation recently launched by the Government aims to announce up to 10 new freeports across the UK at the end of this year to be operating in 2021. The Budget provides the Chancellor with the opportunity to say more about the potential funding and regulatory framework for this initiative. With a promised dose of new public spending, a significant parliamentary majority and a new phase of Brexit and global macroeconomic developments, next week’s Budget will be significant not just for the decisions made but how this sets the tone for policy and funding for the years ahead. Lichfields will be providing further comment on the Budget in due course. Click here to subscribe for updates (opens in email) Image credit: Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak)  

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In search of London’s future industrial land

In search of London’s future industrial land

Ciaran Gunne-Jones 28 Nov 2019
Last month’s London Plan Panel Report confirms what was widely suspected – that London’s future industrial land needs are probably higher than first thought, mainly because of growth in demand for storage and warehousing within and close to urban locations. Whilst the evidence indicates a modest reduction in the amount of land needed for manufacturing uses (c.170 ha), this is more than counterbalanced by predicted growth of land needed for distribution uses (c.280-400 ha), driven by a combination of London’s population growth and the shift to online retailing and e-fulfilment centres. The draft Plan assumes achieving a 65% plot ratio average to accommodate the future balance of industrial needs. But evidence submitted to the Examination pointed to this being challenging (indeed, our research last year across a sample of sites in Outer London found the current average ratio closer to 33%), and not necessarily applicable in all cases. This led the Panel to conclude, “whilst this does not mean that the average of 65% could not be achieved in the future, it does suggest it may be challenging in some locations and for some types of development.” In other words, intensification of industrial land is not in itself likely to absorb the full level of industrial land needs identified, and in any event there is uncertainty about how deliverable this would be in practice. To complicate matters, the pipeline of industrial land release is also now much greater than was originally assumed. In 2015 about 12% of existing industrial land, equating to 838ha, either had planning permission for non-industrial development or had been identified by boroughs has having potential for redevelopment, with no certainty that any industrial capacity would be retained. The 2017 SHLAA indicated that this figure had increased by 106ha to 944ha, implying that future losses of industrial land will probably be higher than was first thought – much to help meet the Plan’s housing requirements. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the vacancy rate of existing industrial land and premises in most boroughs is less than 5% – referred to as “a reasonable benchmark to assume in an efficiently operating market” – so there’s not even much slack within the current land supply to provide more capacity (apart from a small number of east London boroughs where vacant supply is potentially higher). Taken together, these factors led the Panel to report, “there is likely to be a need, in quantitative terms, for more industrial land to meet future demand over the plan period to 2041 than assumed in the Plan.”  However, it’s not just a quantitative issue. Whilst existing industrial land supply may be distributed across property markets and in locations that are generally suitable for the types of industrial use that are expected, the Panel also identified that there will almost certainly be a need to meet new locational and site specific requirements of some businesses including in and around the CAZ and other accessible locations. So not only does London need more industrial land, but it needs to broaden the portfolio of sites and locations it has to offer. In this context, the Panel concluded: “We consider that the approach to meeting [industrial land] needs set out in E4 to E7 is aspirational but may not be realistic. This is for a number of reasons relating to the practicalities and viability of significant intensification of SIL and LSIS, the continuing pressure to redevelop non-designated sites for other uses, and the likely need for new sites in certain locations, including in and around the CAZ.” There was significant debate about the policy detail at the hearing sessions in March, as we reported in an earlier blog. Modifications are suggested to help the effectiveness of these policies E4 to E7 in the short to medium term, but the Panel is unequivocal that planning for medium to longer term industrial land needs should fall within the remit of the future strategic, London-wide Green Belt review that is recommended. The context for this is that in the 15 years since the first London Plan was adopted, there has been a general presumption in favour of industrial land release across London within specified benchmarks. However those benchmarks were significantly exceeded, with the end result being far greater release of industrial land than was ever anticipated (Figure 1). The effect of this has been not only to reduce London’s industrial capacity beyond what structural trends allowed for, but also to narrow the range of industrial locations (particularly within inner London) available to accommodate the wide range of business uses that can exist on industrial sites. Figure 1: Change in London’s industrial floorspace supply (2000-2016) In response, the draft Plan proposes a far more stringent approach to better guide the management of remaining industrial capacity, but relies heavily on intensification and co-location of industrial uses (plus introduces – but doesn’t really articulate in any detail – the concept of ‘substitution’ whereby industrial needs could be met outside of London). However, the Panel was evidently not convinced that the capital’s current and likely future demand-supply balance for industrial land could be met solely in this way, and indicates a bolder approach is called for in the longer-term. The risk is that the issue simply ends up in the long grass, whilst in the meantime a buoyant industrial market adds more pressure. It will be interesting to see how the Mayor responds. See our other blogs in this series: New London Plan Panel Report: Homes for all? Lichfields will publish further analysis on the London Plan Panel Report and its implications in due course. Click here to subscribe for updates.  

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