Press Releases

11 May 2021

British Property Federation: Property industry is critical partner to building back a better Britain

The British Property Federation responds to the Queen’s Speech, which set out today the Government’s legislative programme for UK economic, social and environmental recovery.

Melanie Leech, Chief Executive, British Property Federation comments:
“This year’s Queen’s Speech was one of the most significant in recent history for the property sector. With the Government focused on ‘levelling up’ the UK and bringing forward new legislation to modernise the planning system to achieve this, the property sector will undoubtedly play a fundamental role in supporting communities across the country to build back better. 

Planning
“The Government’s intention is to create a seismic shift in how local authorities plan for and deliver new housing, simplifying the process to put an end to inefficiencies and delays. The planning system’s failures have long been a barrier to new investment and growth in places and communities, but this transition will put significant pressure on local authorities to produce up-to-date, fit-for-purpose local plans. One of the biggest contradictions in government policy since 2010 is that spending on the English planning system has been cut by 55% – the greatest fall across all council activities – meanwhile housing targets over the same period have increased by 50% to 300,000. Reforms to local plans will only be as good as the resource put behind them.

“One of the major flaws in the Government’s approach is its linear vision and singular focus on housing. Two words were missing from the Government’s Planning White Paper – commercial property. To support new jobs, more prosperous communities and vibrant town centres, we need more than just new houses. We need offices to inspire innovation, shopping environments that reflect fast-changing consumer behaviours, and warehouses to support digital growth, among others. The new planning system must equally work for employment land and commercial property development, and it currently fails to provide these areas with enough attention and guide local authorities on how to plan new housing delivery alongside these vital elements to successful urban centres.

“Levies on the property sector already make a significant contribution towards affordable housing and other local and regional infrastructure – the combined annual value of monies committed by the property sector to the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 is currently around £6bn. The property sector absolutely accepts that new infrastructure is vital to creating sustainable communities, but it is difficult to see how the same levy can work for housing developers and developers of commercial and other social property. History tells us the Government will have its work cut out to design something that is simple, but also works for all forms of development.

“We broadly support the Government’s zoning approach, although we believe that there should be an additional zone that focuses on major long-term regeneration projects. For protected areas, it will be important that the new system is clear why land is being protected locally and still allows for some flexibility. There could be a risk that large parts of districts or boroughs are designated as areas of protection, and this is interpreted as set in stone forevermore without consideration of what the community needs.”

Environment
“The property sector is committed to stepping up and playing a leading role in the UK’s ambitions for climate change – to safeguard our planet’s future by protecting and enhancing the UK’s biodiversity, decarbonising the built environment and maximising its role in addressing the threat of climate change.

“It’s positive to see that the delayed Environment Bill is still a key government priority. Amongst other measures the Bill will bring into law the requirements for Biodiversity Net Gain, where new development will have to ensure habitats for wildlife are enhanced and left in a measurably better state than they were pre-development, and the creation of a new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).”

Reform for renters
“We look forward to engaging positively in the Government’s renters’ reform agenda. It is welcome that Government recognises that reform must work for property owners, otherwise it could jeopardise much-needed investment in new high-quality homes for renters across the UK. The key aspect of reform for property owners will be the Courts – we support more reassurance and protection for renters, but when a tenant is proving to be disruptive, displaying anti-social behaviour and upsetting neighbours, property owners will equally require protection. Significant modernisation and digitalisation of our Courts is needed and that will require investment. It will be hugely disappointing if the Government seeks to deliver reform on the cheap.”

Business rates
“The Government’s new £1.5 billion relief fund for businesses affected by Covid-19 but not so far eligible for business rates support is intended to go some way to compensate for the Government’s decision earlier this year to retrospectively “cancel” Covid-related Material Change in Circumstance (MCC) appeals. However, this new fund leaves a gap in support for owners of empty units in retail, leisure and hospitality sectors – who were not entitled to the original business rates holiday – so could be left with no mechanism to seek support on business rates as a result of the pandemic.

“The pandemic has accelerated some of the changes in the way we use real estate – and emphasises the urgent need for the reform of this tax. A lower rate of tax, more frequent revaluations and an end to the system of downwards transitional relief, where businesses are still paying rates based on far outdated rental values, are desperately needed to support our town centres.”

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