The reaction to the Chancellor’s Budget speech on Wednesday from across our industry has been mixed. New funding for nuclear, highways and housing are welcomed; while delays to railway and net-zero funding commitments do nothing to reduce uncertainty on major schemes such as the HS2 Eastern leg. We take a quick look at the detail below…

Welcomed Commitments

Sizewell C: A £1.7bn funding commitment to enable a final investment decision for a large-scale nuclear project; which is likely to focus on Sizewell C. The government remains in active negotiations with EDF over the project and a newly announced approach to funding by the Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng on Tuesday bode well. Ardent have provided a range of support to the project in the land referencing, surveying, development, and application of the DCO. We recently celebrated the end of examination, and look forward to supporting the scheme as it develops towards construction.

Highways: £2.6bn will be invested in a “long-term pipeline” for more than 50 local road upgrade projects including future projects such as the A259 Bognor Regis, phase four of the A350 Chippenham Bypass and A509 Isham Bypass. This is part of a wider £21 billion investment announcement in roads across the UK. Ardent has worked on a range of highways expansion schemes, helping to deliver greater capacity and resilience to strategic highway networks around the UK.

Local communities, housing and planning:  The Chancellor made a range of pledges including £1.8bn towards brownfield housing developments; the first £1.7bn tranche of funding for local infrastructure via the Levelling Up Fund and a £65m investment into the digital transformation of the planning system.

Ardent is a market leader in Land Assembly and Compulsory Purchase for housing regeneration, and has extensive expertise in advising acquiring authorities undertaking commercial and mixed-use developments.  How the Levelling Up funding will be spent by local communities is yet to be seen, but with offices around the UK, we’re excited by the opportunities to support communities across the county.

Missed Opportunities

While commitments in some areas were well received, the industry also lamented the lack of commitments to the railway sector, with the further delay of the Integrated Rail Plan. This defers decisions on key projects for the north of England including the Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2’s Eastern Leg.

Meanwhile, despite the commencement of COP26 next week and the recent publication of the Net-Zero Strategy and Heat and Buildings Strategy, no major new commitments were made to fund the delivery of these ambitious goals. The government also attracted criticism for new tax breaks on fuel and air passenger duties, leaving some to question the signals to citizens ahead of our leadership of the make-or-break climate summit.

Short Term Challenges

The Budget is always a balancing act between long term goals and short-term realities. The Government, the construction industry and individual citizens must navigate the immediate economic challenges of recovery from Covid-19 (which is yet to settle), a sharp rise in inflation, supply chain disruption and the spectre of a future interest rate rise. For infrastructure and construction projects, the acute challenges of procuring materials (both price and lead times) and attracting skilled labour (also impacted by Brexit) are having impacts on delivery today; and is being factored into investment decisions for pipeline projects.

Regardless of what the future holds, Ardent will continue to support our clients to navigate the complex challenges of bringing projects from an idea into an operational asset with our range of land and consents services.

Article written by: James Mummery – Associate Director Consents Management Consultancy

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