The announcement which will have the greatest impact on the landscape profession is about the final form of the National Planning Policy Framework, but this was not included in the budget statement as had been expected. Many considered and valuable suggestions were put to the government on the Framework, by the Landscape Institute and by other parties, and we hope that our advice has been followed.
The budget says ‘The Government has also completed a review of the implementation in England of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives, to be published on 22 March 2012. Following this review, the Government will reduce unnecessary cost and delay to developers by: setting up a Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit; streamlining guidance; setting clearer standards for evidence; and changing the culture of statutory bodies.’ Unfortunately for the Chancellor, the report to which he refers makes it abundantly clear that there is no business case whatsoever for amending or abolishing regulations associated with the Habitats and Wild Birds Directive. His government therefore has no basis on which to proceed with any such measures and we call on him to make clear that he will leave them alone.
Support for SMEs
In the budget the government announced a National Loan Guarantee Scheme with £20bn of guarantees to banks lending to SMEs. We have no evidence that previous initiatives to try and boost lending to smaller businesses have had any discernible impact on landscape practices, but we broadly welcome this as a measure which may have some positive outcomes.
While loan guarantees are useful, the LI believes the most positive thing the government can do to improve business conditions for SMEs in our sector is to make radical improvements to public sector procurement. We have campaigned on this issue over the last two years and remain of the view that public sector procurement is bedevilled by many bad practices which make SME participation very difficult. We would not necessarily expect any announcements to be made on this in the budget, but urge the government to press forward with much-needed reforms.
The budget makes plain that the Chancellor remains firmly wedded to the importance of grey infrastructure, and there are no measures which promote green infrastructure, which is disappointing given that this is the third budget from what claims to be the greenest government ever.
The budget announced or confirmed a number of large-scale investments in the railways and other transport schemes, as well as some local development initiatives through the Growing Places Fund. We welcome these.
The LI is less enthusiastic about the proposal to take forward a National Roads Strategy. In recent years major efforts have been made to reduce road traffic and to find more sustainable forms of transport. Roads will of course continue to play a major part in our national infrastructure but we wish to see the emphasis retained firmly on encouraging and supporting transport options which do not further encourage the use of motor vehicles.
The government announced or confirmed a number of measures intended to invigorate housebuilding. Among other items there is to be an increase of £150m in the Get Britain Building Fund and an accelerated programme of releasing public land for housing. We welcome measures taken to increase the stock of housing coming onto the market and to help boost employment in the construction sector, which has been particularly hard hit over the last four years.