PM unveils infrastructure spending and planning reforms to ‘build, build, build’ out of Covid-19 crisis

"Times demand” interventionist policies to aid UK's economic recovery, Boris Johnson says
Boris Johnson announced the plans in Dudley. Photo: Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard/PA Wire/PA Images

The prime minister has unveiled a £5bn package of infrastructure investment and radical changes to the planning system as part of a New Deal to “build, build, build” the UK out of the coronavirus crisis.

The prime minister used a major speech in Dudley today to tip his hat to the late US president Franklin D Roosevelt, who kicked off a programme of the same name to help the US recover from the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Making clear that he believed the UK economy – which shrank by a record 20% in April as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold – faces a similar scale challenge, the PM promised a “positively Rooseveltian” recovery plan focused on jobs and infrastructure investment.

Saying the “times demand” a round of interventionist economic policies, Johnson confirmed the government was bringing forward £5bn worth of investment projects, including a £1.5bn package for hospital maintenance and expansion.

He pledged £100m this year for 29 road projects, including bridge repairs and A-road upgrades, as well as £10m for rail in Manchester.

Yesterday the PM announced a £1bn boost to school and further education building programmes. The government is also promising £142m to upgrade courts; £83m for prison maintenance; and £900m for a raft of local growth projects in England over the next two years.

Johnson said today that his government was “committed not just to defeating coronavirus but to using this crisis finally to tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges of the last three decades".
 
“To build the homes, to fix the NHS, to tackle the skills crisis, to mend the indefensible gap in opportunity and productivity and connectivity between the regions of the UK.  To unite and level up," he said.
 
“To that end we will build, build, build. Build back better, build back greener, build back faster and to do that at the pace that this moment requires.”

But the plans have already drawn criticism after it was pointed out the money equates to around just £75 per person.

And the figure represents around 0.2.% of the UK’s current GDP, while the spending in Roosevelt's original New Deal was around 40% of that country’s economic output before the Great Depression.

Planning overhaul

New regulations will meanwhile give greater freedom for developers to convert vacant and redundant buildings in homes without the need for planning permission.

Under what Downing Street called “the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War”, existing commercial properties, including newly-vacant shops, can be converted into residential housing more easily.

Pubs, libraries, village shops and other uses deemed essential to local communities will not be covered by the new rules, which are set to come into effect by September.

No.10 said the changes "will both 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".

It added: “Developers will still need to adhere to high standards and regulations, just without the unnecessary red tape.”

The PM also announced that work will begin to look at how land owned by the government can be managed more effectively.

And there is a wider package of measures to support home building across England, such as a £12bn affordable homes programme to support up to 180,000 new properties for ownership and rent over the next eight years.

However, critics – including shadow business secretary Ed Milliband – have noted the figure appears to represent a spending cut, as it covers a longer period than the £12bn over five years promised in the March Budget

A planning policy paper will be published in July setting out the government’s plan for comprehensive reform of England’s seven-decade old planning system. 

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