Autumn Statement: what can the construction sector expect?

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This afternoon the government will lay out its plans in its Autumn Statement, with housing and infrastructure expected to be a key focus

Today’s Autumn Statement is a pivotal one, representing the first since Philip Hammond became Chancellor, and the first since Theresa May took the helm as Prime Minister.

For construction it is undoubtedly significant. The sector has found it difficult in some areas to bounce back after the EU referendum vote and will be looking for reassurance that the government has construction on the agenda.

Most of the sector has an idea what they would like to see in the way of support from the government, but whether that wishlist will transpire remains to be seen and will not be apparent until this afternoon.

Housing

There are certainly hopes within the sector that there will be a major focus on housebuilding. The nation faces a substantial housing crisis, one that is exacerbated by the government’s inability to meet its own yearly target to build 200,000 new homes a year.

In a bid to tackle housing shortages, it is thought the government will focus on affordability. Hammond is expected to reveal £1.4bn will be put forward to deliver 40,000 new affordable homes in England.

Furthermore, it has also been revealed letting agent fees will be banned. In a nation that is increasingly becoming more entrenched as Generation Rent this will undoubtedly be welcome by tenants.

However, this decision is not universally popular. David Cox, managing director of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (Arla), said: “A ban on letting agent fees is a draconian measure, and will have a profoundly negative impact on the rental market.

“It will be the fourth assault on the sector in just over a year, and do little to help cash-poor renters save enough to get on the housing ladder.

“This decision is a crowd-pleaser, which will not help renters in the long-term. All of the implications need to be taken into account.”

There is also a little uncertainty over the Housing White Paper that experts expected to be published today. It is now thought this will happen by the end of the year instead. The white paper will outline the government’s plans to deal with the housing crisis and to meet its target of delivering a million new homes by 2020.

In a statement published yesterday, Housing Minister Gavin Barwell said: “We have already announced for this spending period we are putting £8bn into affordable housing delivery.

“Building more homes is central to this government’s vision of a country that works for everyone. We will publish a Housing White Paper shortly, setting out measures to help us deliver this ambition.”

Infrastructure

Initially, it was expected there could be a huge investment in infrastructure totalling as much as £15bn, but reportedly The Times is now forecasting this figure could be lower at £5bn—£2bn of which will be used to fund tax breaks for science and research.

Infrastructure has remained an important facet of this parliament, with former Chancellor George Osborne promoting major projects such as HS2, Crossrail and Hinckley Point. However, what is planned for the year head seems a little more modest, with a focus expected to be placed on upgrading the road network.

The Guardian also suggested some £400m could be invested in developing super-fast broadband, another area that has been a focus for this government.

Land

Brownfield land has the potential to deliver new homes so undoubtedly it should form a major part of the government’s plans for the year ahead. The Royal Institution for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has already set out its stall in relation to this, calling on the government to do more to free up land and invest more in planning departments to speed up the application process.

In a recent survey RICS reported 59 per cent of respondents found planning constraints were a major barrier to new housing development schemes. It also revealed 59 per cent thought the government freeing up brownfield sites would enable more affordable housing.

Land is without a doubt a vital part of the housebuilding process and developers will want the government to ensure it is easier to source sites. RICS recommended the government do more to free up land suitable for building, both public and private sites.

Energy Efficiency

There is also a hope that the government will focus on green building. Earlier this week the UK Green Building Council called on the government to consider home retrofit in their plans.

During his speech, Hammond is expected to announce a green paper on the industrial strategy. He is also set to unveil the initial findings from the government’s Estate Regeneration Advisory Panel. The UK-GBC wants the whole home retrofit to be considered a cornerstone of the strategy, as well as an integral part of estate regeneration plans.

Over the past few years green building has suffered a number of blows. Firstly with the loss of the Zero Carbon Homes strategy and later with the failure of the Green Deal. Whether these issues will form part of government plans and funding is uncertain.

The Autumn Statement will be broadcast live across major news outlets at 12.30pm today.  

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