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On 30th June, Boris Johnson promised to ‘build, build, build’, saying that he wanted to use the crisis caused by the pandemic “to tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges” and get UK construction moving.

Aiming to emulate the New Deal policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Prime Minister promised the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War, an acceleration of infrastructure schemes, and money for school building and hospital projects.

Totalling £4.43 billion, the total value of civil engineering approvals during the three months to July was three-times higher than the previous year. Major projects, at £3.6 billion, were 343% higher than the previous year.

So the development pipeline is healthy, but as we approach the two-month mark since the speech, what has changed? What are the opportunities arising from the promises made, and what can we expect from the future?

Planning system

With a view to streamlining the planning system, reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and speeding up development, major planning system reforms were announced by the government at the beginning of August.

Under the new rules, land will be designated in one of three categories: for growth, for renewal and for protection.

“Land designated for growth will empower development - new homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices will be allowed automatically”, Robert Jenrick said.

New homes and hospitals will be granted automatic outline planning permission, cutting time for developments to proceed to slight as well as cutting costs for developers.

Whilst protecting areas of natural beauty and the green belt, the government insists this will allow developments to be built at a much faster pace, despite critics claiming this could lead to bad-quality housing.

Roads

During his speech, the Prime Minister frequently highlighted road projects as a key area for government investment to get Britain moving. And in terms of work commencing on-site, this has been a stand-out area in recent months.

According to the latest Glenigan data, road projects during the three months to July added up to £971 million; a rise of 85% on the previous year.

Balfour Beatty have finally commenced on-site on the £355 million improvements to the A63 in Hull and Kier have commenced on-site on the new £150 million A585 Windy Harbour to Skippool bypass in recent months (Project ID: 03291881). The bypass will be up to 5km of new two lane dual carriageway. This was another scheme the government has approved since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many road schemes, of much lesser value, have also commenced on-site in recent months, including improvements to junction 9 on the M27 in Fareham (Project ID: 17300829). Skanska are working on the £10 million scheme to support potential housing developments in the area.

Many road schemes have also had detailed plans approved in recent months, providing more optimism for the sector.

The government gave its backing to £282 million improvements to junction 6 of the M42 back in May (Project ID: 17289535). The scheme comprises 2.4km dual carriageway link road between A45 Clock Interchange and a new junction on the M42. Skanska has been awarded the main contract.

Utilities

The Government has committed to several major utility schemes in recent months, boosting the development pipeline enormously.

Government backing of Norfolk Vanguard, a £1.8 billion offshore wind farm off the coast of Norfolk (Project ID: 18125707), provided a tremendous boost to the sector. Ground investigation works are now on site for a period of four months, but a main contractor is yet to be appointed.

Government has also granted approval of Manston Airport during the three months of July (Project ID: 08503252). The £200 million development comprises re-opening the airport primarily as a cargo airport, with a capacity of at least 12,000 air cargo movements per year. This project is also yet to go out to tender.

A development consent has also been granted for the Cleve Hill Solar Park in Whitstable, Kent (Project ID: 17443990. The £450 million scheme will cover an area the size of 900 football pitches, powering approximately 110,000 homes a year.

Future Projects

A number of high-value infrastructure projects are yet to receive planning permission, but are waiting in the wings to commence on-site in the near future.

The £290 million A1 Morpeth to Ellingham dualling (Project ID: 14429881) is one major project which has submitted detailed plans. Tenders have been returned on the project, which public consultations are due to be held this summer.

Improvements to the A47 from North Tuddenham to Easton (Project ID: 18125712) is another scheme that could be given the go-ahead in the near future. The £153 million development are yet to be granted approval, but are anticipated to start on-site in June 2022.

£100 million improvements to junction 28 of the M25 (Project ID: 14439523) are also set to be given the go-ahead from the government. Works are due to commence on-site in May 2022.

Works are due to commence on-site in 2021 on a new £68 million road bridge in Lowestoft, Suffolk (Project ID: 17077584). The Secretary of State for Transport approved plans in April, with Suffolk County Council due to finalise plans. Waveney MP Peter Aldous said the bridge would be the "foundation stone" for the town's "post COVID-19 economy". Tenders have been returned on the project.

Despite being in its early stages, the government’s ‘build build build’ promise is already showing signs of intent to push projects through the pipeline and drive activity.

The planning changes may take some time to make a real difference, but with a solid pipeline of infrastructure projects, the government is clearly boosting confidence for the sector, with many high-value projects finally getting over the line thanks to government backing.

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