New Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed his first Budget yesterday (Wednesday 11 March). Policy Manager Theo Plowman covers which policies will most affect the landscape sector

Big Ben, London. Image: Eric Lundqvist via Unsplash

The new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, revealed his first Budget yesterday. Among a wide range of new policies were some that will affect the landscape sector.

There were hopes that this budget would focus on green issues. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 has overshadowed the climate and biodiversity emergencies. This article will highlight some of the key announcements.

Responding to COVID-19

  • Anyone advised to self-isolate will be entitled to statutory sick pay, even if they have not presented with symptoms. Self-employed workers who are elegible will be able to claim contributory Employment Support Allowance
  • Firms with fewer than 250 staff will be refunded for sick pay payments for two weeks
  • Small firms will be able to access ‘business interruption’ loans of up to £1.2m

(See the LI home page for the LI’s latest updates to members.)

Environment

For landscape, the only relevant announcements were:

  • A £640m ‘Nature for Climate’ fund to protect natural habitats, including 30,000 hectares of new trees and peatland
  • The doubling over the next five years of the total investment in flood defences in England (to £5.2bn)
  • £120m in emergency relief for English communities affected by this winter’s flooding, and £200m for flood resilience

Other green measures to tackle pollution and carbon emissions include:

  • The scrap of subsidies for fuel used in off-road vehicles – known as red diesel – ‘for most sectors’ in two years’ time
  • Increases in taxes on pollution, alongside a £1 billion rise in funding for green transport solutions
  • £800m for two carbon capture and storage clusters in the North East
  • Promises to more than double research and development investment in the UK’s Energy Innovation programme to £1 billion

Building and Infrastructure

The Chancellor announced new infrastructure spending, some of which could trigger landscape investment:

  • More than £600 billion to be spent by the middle of 2025 on roads, rail, broadband, and housing
  • £27 billion for motorways and other arterial roads, including new tunnel for the A303 near Stonehenge
  • Major forthcoming planning reforms, with added pressure on local authorities that fail to meet housing needs (a Planning White Paper will emerge ‘in the spring’)
  • New confirmed allocations from the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF), totalling £1.1 billion
  • The announcement of a new £400 million fund aimed at creating more homes on brownfield land

Additionally:

  • £2.5bn will be available over five years to fix potholes and resurface roads in England
  • There will be a new £1 billion fund to remove all unsafe combustible cladding from all public and private housing higher than 18 metres

Regional investment and devolved nations

  • The government has allocated an extra £640 million for Scotland, £360 million for Wales, and £210 million for Northern Ireland
  • The Treasury’s Green Book rules (how the Government evaluates its policies) will be reviewed to factor regional prosperity into spending decisions
  • There will be a new £1.8bn devolution deal for West Yorkshire, with an elected mayor for the region
  • The government announced plans for a new town at Cambridge, and development corporations at four location between the city and Bedford

Overall, the budget delivers a surprisingly large package for the nation. There are some useful short-term measures for business affected by the recent COVID-19 outbreak, as well as some long-term green projects that are welcome.

But the budget is not one that takes leadership on the climate crisis, with a fuel duty freeze and massive spending on road-building far outweighing incentives to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis.

We will continue to explore the nuances of the budget. Keep an eye on Vista for further updates.

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