The Queen’s Speech 2021: core policies for property and construction
Her Majesty highlighted 30 laws which the government hopes to pass in the next 12 months – including a number of bills from the previous session which ended last month (the Environment Bill among them) and a number of bills included in past Queen’s Speeches (including the Building Safety Bill).
The government's priority for the next 12 months is the delivery of a national recovery from the pandemic which will be achieved by "levelling up". The Queen noted in her speech that the aim of such focus is to make "the United Kingdom stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before by supporting jobs, businesses and economic growth and addressing the impact of the pandemic on public services."
In addition to the "levelling up" priority there are a number of other key themes within the government’s proposals including infrastructure; constitutional reform; borders and security; the armed forces; housing; education and the environment.
For the property and construction sectors the following proposals will be of greatest interest:
A draft version was published in July last year (you can read our overview of the draft bill) and underwent parliamentary review and scrutiny during the autumn. Recommendations for improvements were published in November which the government is currently considering. Changes to the draft bill are also expected to cover whether leaseholders’ bear responsibility for the costs of works to remedy historical defects. You can read more about the background to these anticipated changes in our article “The Fire Safety Act: key issues following Royal Assent.”
As the title suggests the Planning Bill will introduce changes to the planning system in England and seeks to implement reforms trailed in the Government’s White Paper “Planning for the Future” published in August 2020. These changes are aimed at trying to improve certainty as to the type, scale and design of development and where it will be permitted. Modifications will also reduce the amount of time it takes to obtain planning. Whilst the proposals for streamlining the planning process have been welcomed the introduction of a zoning system – which would identify ‘growth’ areas ripe for development and ‘protected’ and ‘renewal’ zones subject to tighter controls -.has come under criticism.
The bill will also "simplify and enhance the EU derived framework of environmental assessments for developments" and introduce changes to simplify the way in which affordable housing and infrastructure is funded with a new levy. These proposals appear to reflect the changes to CIL and section 106 agreements proposed by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in August 2020 however further detail is awaited.
The Environment Bill is wide-ranging in its aims but a key element from a development perspective is the intention to mandate “biodiversity net gain” in the planning system to ensure that “new houses are not built at the expense of nature and delivering thriving natural spaces for communities”. There are also plans to establish an independent Office for Environmental Protection.
The Queens speech specifically referred to the Government’s binding environmental targets and the aim to reach net zero by 2050 – this bill seeks to legislate for those ambitions and will assist in positioning the UK as an environmental leader in advance of the COP26 summit.
Since 1 January 2021, changes to EU procurement law have no longer applied to the UK. The Public Procurement Bill will therefore replace EU rules on how the government buys services from the public sector with “three simple, modern procedures”. Other proposals include the introduction of a single platform so that suppliers only have to submit their data once to qualify for any public sector procurement; greater opportunities for public sector bodies to take past performance into account when selecting suppliers and reforms to the way in which procurement decisions can be challenged.
The bill will support the extension of 5G mobile coverage and introduce new safety standards for digital devices. It will also include reforms to the Electronic Communications Code “to support faster and more collaborative negotiations for the use of private and public land for telecommunications deployment, and to put the right framework in place for the use of installed apparatus.” Responses to recent consultations on these issues are being analysed “to ensure this package of reforms delivers the necessary results.”
The ability to charge ground rents on new long residential leases will be restricted (future ground rents will be set to zero) and this will be enforced through a civil penalty regime (including fines of up to £5,000) for freeholders which contravene the bill. There will be certain exemptions including in some parts of the community-led housing sector and business leases.
This bill seeks to implement one of the proposals set out in the Law Commission’s enfranchisement report and follows on from the Government’s press release made earlier this year. This bill is the first of two pieces of legislation designed to implement leasehold reform. In a response to questions about when to expect the second piece of legislation (raised on 5 January 2021) Lord Greenhalgh stated that primary legislation will be required and to get such legislation ready for consideration “will take approximately one year, so we are probably talking about the third Session”.
This bill has broad aims including plans to allow regulators to enter into reciprocal agreements with their international counterparts to facilitate the recognition of professional qualifications as well as the introduction of a new system for recognising all architects who qualified overseas. This should help overcome the difficulties caused by the absence of mutual recognition of professional qualifications in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement agreed with the EU.
Tax breaks for employers based in the 8 freeports to be set up in England later this year (as mentioned in the Budget) will be included in a National Insurance Contributions Bill.
The government has committed to a ‘better deal for renters’ in England but there is no legislation at this stage. Plans include the publication of a White Paper in the autumn exploring proposals for a new ‘lifetime’ tenancy deposit model; the possibility of a landlord’s register; requiring private landlords to belong to a redress scheme and improvements to the possession process.
There’s no mention of the reforms to business rates. Legislation to implement all the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase 1 report, which the government committed to lay before Parliament by 30 October this year during debates on the then Fire Safety Bill, is not covered either.
At 10 minutes long the Queen’s Speech was never going to provide much detail about the legislative programme for the next year. The background briefing note does put flesh on some of the bones but we will have to wait until the legislation is published to find out more