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.
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’
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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
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.
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.
The Environment Bill has been delayed from the previous parliamentary session, but work to implement it continues, including:
- appointing a chair to the Office for Environmental Protection
- developing targets
- consulting on a draft policy statement, a deposit return scheme, and extended producer responsibility
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.