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King’s Speech – construction industry left underwhelmed

8 Nov 23 The government has set out its legislative programme for its final year in office, to no great fanfare from the construction industry.

Charles III delivers his maiden King’s Speech to open the new parliamentary session
Charles III delivers his maiden King’s Speech to open the new parliamentary session

Highlights include an Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill to allow more North Sea oil and gas extraction, a Trade Bill to put UK membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership on the statute book and a Leasehold and Freehold Bill to make it easier for leaseholders to extend their lease or purchase their freehold.

There will also be a Renters (Reform) Bill to give tenants stronger security of tenure.

The programme of legislation was set out in Charles III’s maiden King’s Speech to parliament yesterday.

Notable by its absence is legislation to reform European Union nutrient neutrality rules that block house-building in river catchment areas. The government tried to append a clause to this effect to its Levelling Up Bill in September but this was rejected by the House of Lords. [See previous report here.]

 It had been suggested that new legislation would be brought forward to unblock the system, but the government has chosen to steer clear of what would have been a controversial measure. It is already up against the green lobby on several fronts and river pollution might have been a fight too far.

The only mention of construction was a commitment to build a national Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens next door to the Palace of Westminster. This will be enabled by a Holocaust Memorial Bill.

Reaction from across the construction industry suggests broad disappointment.

Federation of Master Builders (FMB) chief executive Brian Berry said: “It is disappointing that that there was nothing of note in the King's Speech to address the alarming decline in housebuilding rates across the country or any new plans to improve the nation’s draughty and leaky homes. At a time when we need to be focusing on economic growth the absence of ambition to build more homes and improve the ones we have is a missed opportunity.”

Berry continued: “The King’s Speech reference to plans to regenerate towns across the UK is promising but without the detail the jury is still out about whether this will benefit local builders. A clear commitment from the government to engage with SMEs would have helped provide more assurance at a time when enquiries for new building work are falling by as much as 40%.”

He added: “More encouraging is the government’s lead to improve the quality of technical education in this country with its focus on enhancing skills and vocational training, ensuring that everybody can receive the best possible education, through the new Advanced British Standard qualification. This has long been an issue of great importance to SME builders looking to recruit staff and grow their businesses.”

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The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said that it welcomed the government’s commitment to abolishing Section 21 'no-fault' evictions. “We agree that the court system must be reformed and digitalised, however the lack of timescale for it will be of little comfort to renters, who are also facing increasing rents and decreasing choices of homes whilst we continue to under-deliver on new housing supply,” it said. 

It added:  “RICS is pleased that legislation will be introduced to make it cheaper and easier for leaseholders to purchase their leasehold property and tackle unfair service charges. This should provide greater protections and certainties for both tenants and landlords. Also, the new ombudsman offers tenants greater protection and support in challenging unfair practices by landlords.”

However, it was disappointed that the government moved away from its commitment to introducing higher energy-efficiency standards into the rental market.  “Included in the Kings Speech should have been an announcement to reform EPC methodology, given the Independent Review into Net Zero recommendation to introduce new energy standards based on a new energy measurement system,” it said.

Louise Hutchins, head of policy and public affairs at UK Green Building Council, said: “The government claimed to set out an agenda to tackle the long-term challenges facing the UK, yet introduced no legislation or proposals to address the catastrophic levels of energy waste from homes and buildings that are fuelling the cost of living and climate crises.

“Formally pulling the plug on minimum energy efficiency standards for private rented homes will condemn millions of people living in fuel poverty to continue enduring cold, mouldy homes.

“As we hurtle towards climate disaster, opening up new oil and gas extraction while failing to deal with the huge demand from gas heating in buildings will only take us further off-course from the net zero future we so desperately need.”

Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) president Muyiwa Oki said: “The government’s agenda for the next year should do more to address the housing crisis and climate emergency. This is a missed opportunity. 

“The emphasis placed on increasing energy supply, rather than adopting a National Retrofit Strategy to reduce energy demand, feels misguided. And while the Renters (Reform) and Leasehold and Freehold Bills show a desire to rebalance the housing system, they do not go far enough. The government must invest in a radical housing strategy – backed by skilled design expertise – to ensure the delivery of high-quality, sustainable homes in places where people want to live.”

Lawrence Turner, director of Boyer (part of Leaders Romans Group), said: “As the single most significant block on housing development, the issue of nutrient neutrality is the main contributor to the housing crisis. At least 150,000 homes have been delayed because of the of the government’s failure to address the issue – and of these at least 45,000 are much-needed social / affordable housing units.

“Only last month, Michael Gove told the Conservative Party that he wanted the rules to be scrapped ‘at the first available opportunity’ and so it is extremely disappointing that this opportunity has now been lost. The continued uncertainty will continue to the detriment of those most in need.”

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