On 11 May 2021, the Queen delivered her speech marking the first session of a new parliament – outlining 30 laws that ministers intend to pass in the coming 12 months, including a number of bills carried over from the previous session. Our Policy and Public Affairs Manager Theo Plowman takes a look at the legislation most relevant to our sector.

Palace of Westminster, London. Image: Eric Lundqvist via Unsplash

The government’s second Queen’s Speech on 11 May 2021 contained much of the same confident rhetoric of previous set pieces. The overall theme was one of ‘building back’ – bigger, better, safer, fairer, and greener. Among the raft of legislation announcements and key policy pledges were several relevant for the landscape sector, which we’ve split into three key groups:

Infrastructure and ‘levelling up’

Skills and professional qualifications

Environmental legislation

Infrastructure and ‘levelling up’

Levelling up

Later this year, a Levelling Up White Paper will set out new policy interventions to improve livelihoods and opportunity in the UK. The White Paper will build on actions such as the Levelling Up Fund, the Towns Fund, establishing eight Freeports in England, the £400m ‘Strength In Places’ Fund, High Speed 2, and the Plan for Jobs.

Infrastructure

  • The Spending Review 2020 committed £100bn of capital investment in the 2021-22 financial year.
  • Alongside the Spending Review, the government published the National Infrastructure Strategy, which aims to rebuild the economy, ‘level up’ the country, strengthen the Union, and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

UK Infrastructure Bank

  • The UK Infrastructure Bank (UKIB), which will launch later in the spring, will provide financing support to private sector and local authority infrastructure projects across the UK.
  • The UKIB will be able to deploy £12bn of equity and debt capital and £10bn of guarantees. The government expect it to support more than £40bn of infrastructure investment overall.
  • Part of the Prime Minister’s ten point plan for a green industrial revolution, the UKIB aims to help create and support up to 250,000 green jobs in the country and generate over three times as much private investment by 2030.

LI reaction

The scale and urgency of the climate and nature crises require even greater ambition than this. The investment is of course welcome, but we need to deliver the right kind of investment to create a truly green recovery.

The Prime Minister’s ten point plan for focusses on technological and speculative solutions, such as carbon capture, nuclear, and hydrogen. But it misses a huge opportunity to put nature-based solutions at the forefront. To meet the UK’s climate obligations, we must prioritise making the most of the places we’ve already got, including green retrofitting.

Properly maintaining the nation’s assets is as important as investing in them in the first place, yet the majority of our green infrastructure is lacking investment.

Project Speed

  • A new Infrastructure Delivery Taskforce named ‘Project Speed’ aims to accelerate and improve the delivery of infrastructure projects.
  • Project Speed will look at regulatory reform to: secure better environmental outcomes; more quickly expand infrastructure such as schools and hospitals; and make the construction sector more productive, sustainable, and internationally competitive.

The LI supports modernising and enhancing environmental regulations. But to be truly forward-thinking, measures must integrate social and environmental considerations to ensure sustainable development.

The Prime Minister made worrying reference to ‘newt-counting delays’ to development last year. Environment Secretary George Eustice too has been explicit about his intention to overhaul the regime, describing it as ‘clunky and cumbersome’. Watering down and stripping back environmental protections isn’t a solution to delays in housing delivery – in fact, responsible developers who carry out appropriate surveys early in the planning stages would not normally experience a significant enough delay to affect their completion rate.

CIEEM has aptly set out the case for upholding environmental standards, pointing to more entrenched issues with land and supply that have caused delays.

Planning Bill

The Bill aims to:

  • create a simpler, faster, and more modern planning system to replace the current one that dates back to 1947.
  • deliver homes and infrastructure such as schools and hospitals more quickly across England.
  • transform the planning system into a digital and map-based service, allowing more active public engagement.
  • introduce quicker, simpler frameworks for funding infrastructure and assessing environmental impacts and opportunities.

The Planning Bill unsurprisingly carries forward much of the reforms set out in last year’s Planning White Paper. Overall, we support the ambition for reform of the planning system to increase the standard of design and to improve environmental outcomes. The system is not broken, but it does need change.

The best planning is landscape-led. This means planning places which respond to their existing environment, work with natural assets, and create Environmental Net Gain wherever possible. It is good for people, good for nature, and good for the planet.

See our full response here.

Skills and professional qualifications

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill

Part of the government’s ‘build back better’ agenda is to upskill and reskill the economy. The purpose of this new bill is to:

  • transform post-16 education and training, make skills more readily available, and get more people into work – as set out in the government’s Skills for Jobs White Paper.
  • enable people to access flexible funding for higher or further education, bring universities and further education colleges closer together, and remove the bias against technical education.
  • deliver the new Lifetime Skills Guarantee.
  • realign the system around employers’ needs, training for the skills gaps that exist now and will exist in the future – in sectors such as construction, digital, clean energy, and manufacturing.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • a Skills Accelerator programme that enables employers and providers to collaboratively develop skills plans, ensuring local skills provision meets local needs.
  • the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, which will give people access to the equivalent of up to four years’ worth of student loans for level 4-6 qualifications that they can use flexibly across their lifetime, at colleges as well as universities.

Increasing funding for technical qualifications and lifetime learning is important. The increased drive to work with employers to match their specific skill deficits is welcome, and we will continue to build on our apprenticeships. Apprenticeships and technical qualifications are a fantastic opportunity to future-proof the landscape sector: they broaden pathways into the industry, and they improve accessibility to, and diversity within, the profession. We hope to work further with government to help address the skills shortage in landscape and empower our members to continue delivering for the benefit of people, place and nature.

Professional Qualifications Bill

The Bill will:

  • enable the UK to implement its international agreements, and allow regulators to enter into reciprocal agreements with their international counterparts, to facilitate the recognition of professional qualifications.
  • make sure regulators have the information and flexibility they need to effectively regulate professionals who have qualified in a different part of the UK.
  • require regulators to publish details about entry and practice requirements.
  • introduce a new system for recognising architects who qualify overseas. This will expedite new international entrants to the Architects Register in the UK, while requiring them to demonstrate a specific understanding of the UK working environment.

We welcome the support for mutual recognition of qualifications, and we are continuing to work with government to maintain high entry and practice standards and enable smooth transitions for those entering our industry. (For more information, see our briefing here.)

The government has taken an interesting step to ensure recognition for international architects. Though this doesn’t affect the landscape sector directly, we would take this as a hopeful sign for other occupations – such as landscape architecture – that are suffering similar skills shortages.

Environmental legislation

Environment Bill

The Environment Bill has been delayed from the previous parliamentary session, but work to implement it continues, including:

The Bill will:

  • ‘put the environment at the centre of policy making’, with a framework for legally-binding environmental targets and measures on recycling, air pollution, water supplies and wastewater services, nature, and biodiversity.
  • establish the Office for Environmental Protection to hold public authorities to account, create a duty on ministers to make environmental concerns central to policy development, set legally-binding targets, and create a long-term environmental improvement plan.
  • contain measures to move towards a circular economy, including extended producer responsibility, product labelling, consistent recycling in England, a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, better litter enforcement, and powers to introduce charges for single-use plastic items.
  • require at least two legally-binding targets on air quality, and modernise legislation to manage water sustainably.
  • mandate ‘biodiversity net gain’ in the planning system, introduce Local Nature Recovery Strategies and Nature Recovery Networks, and give communities more say in protecting trees.
  • prohibit larger businesses from using key agricultural commodities produced on illegally deforested land.

Furthermore, amendments to the Bill will require the Government to publish a plan to reduce sewage discharge from storm overflows by September 2022, and report on parliament on progress with this.

We welcome the return of the Environment Bill, which remains much the same as its previous iteration: it bridges an important gap in environmental governance, but is lacking in strength and independent scrutiny.

Working alongside the Environmental Policy Forum, the LI will be pressing the government to improve certain aspects of the Bill. We want to see an Environment Bill that:

  • adopts a philosophy of non-regression from EU environmental standards, embedding environmental principles and protections that are at least as strong as those we enjoyed as an EU member.
  • outlines a clear, robust target-setting process, laying the framework for ambitious and clearly measurable, legally binding targets on air, water, and biodiversity.
  • addresses concerns over the OEP’s independence and its ability to enforce appropriate standards.
  • fully implements a sustainability skills agenda, equipping young people and employers to deliver a greener, cleaner economy.

Read our full briefing here.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Theo, thank you for your helpful summary, I agree with your questioning of the Government’s commitment, we must all participate in this debate.

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