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Stantec's response to the Queen’s speech, May 2021

May 11, 2021

Environmental expert Stefan Boss explores significant infrastructure investment commitments and plans for legislative change

The Queen’s Speech set out the Government’s legislative agenda for the next session of Parliament. Naturally, there was a strong focus on recovering from the pandemic and this aligned with significant commitments to infrastructure and re-shaping the planning system to help deliver the ‘levelling up’ agenda, as well as long trailed environmental protections.

Infrastructure delivery and house building are traditional ways to grow out of recession and are to be adopted again. The Queen refers to “Proposals will be taken forward to transform connectivity by rail and bus and to extend 5G mobile coverage and gigabit capable broadband.”  This is likely to include a Bill for the next stage of the HS2, from Crewe to Manchester, improvements to local rail and bus services and a planned extension of fast broadband and 5G mobile coverage.

Specific reference to planning included that the “Government will help more people to own their own home whilst enhancing the rights of those who rent. Laws to modernise the planning system, so that more homes can be built, will be brought forward…”.  Reference to modernisation of the planning system will see the Government introducing changes trailed last year in the Planning for the Future White Paper designed to make the planning system “simpler, faster and more modern”.  Following considerable feedback from the development industry, it will be fascinating to see how many of the changes meeting in Planning for the Future (introduction of growth, renewal and protected areas zones, simplified plan making process, extension of permission in principle, etc.) will be implemented and how quickly. The political context will also be important as the Government seeks to balance dissent in traditional Tory shires about green field development with delivering on growth promises in newly won ‘red wall’ constituencies. The result of these political battles will undoubtedly shape how we plan and deliver development, especially homes, over the coming years as the planning system is subject to yet another overhaul aimed as accelerating development.

Building safety was an important theme of the speech, the details we have so far on the new Buildings Safety Regulator emphasise the importance of developers, designers and contractors working collaboratively through each stage of the project from approval to handover, to ensure that the highest possible safety standards are upheld. Through Stantec.IO we utilise technology to help our clients experience their projects before they are built to help understand health and safety implications. We believe that taking an innovative approach and incorporating digital design into the build process will lead to safe and smart buildings that are sustainable, resilient, and cost-effective.

We work closely with local authorities, land developers and commercial clients to ‘build back better’, so the reminder in the Queen’s speech of the Government’s commitment to investing in eight new freeports across the UK is a welcome step in making this a reality. Not only will the freeports provide a much needed boost to international trade, investment and innovation in the UK, there are wider societal benefits that can be gained. Our teams have worked on similar projects and understand that in conjunction with supportive planning processes the opportunities that the new freeports will bring – enhancing transport connectivity and infrastructure, accelerating housing delivery, upskilling and creation of jobs that will improve and regenerate local economies and communities across the UK.

Stantec will always support legislation that provides education, upskilling and development opportunities that are accessible to the communities our clients serve, and look forward to seeing this commitment and further investment delivered for the benefit of the whole country.

The Queen also referred to legislation providing for “binding environmental targets”. This is reference to the long awaited Environment Bill, now identified as being forthcoming in the previous three Queen’s speeches – so hopefully worth the wait! This will fill the regulatory gaps since the UK left the EU, as well as including measures to tackle significant environmental challenges including biodiversity loss, waste and resources, water and air pollution. The Bill will include the legal requirement for developments to achieve a net gain in biodiversity, which interestingly has already become established practice well in advance of reaching the statute book. The Bill will require the Secretary of State to set long term and legally binding environmental targets and also establishes the Office for Environmental Protection to scrutinise and enforce public authorities’ compliance with environmental laws.

The speech also re-iterated the Government’s commitment to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Stantec has been working towards climate action goals for over a decade, we welcome the commitment to create new green industries for a net zero future and the introduction of further legislation to protect our environment. Key to achieving net zero will be the need to create a clear pathway for the UK to be the world leader in direct carbon removal. This needs to be done in addition to the existing plans for investments into hydrogen, renewables, electrification of heating and transport, and carbon capture and storage which supports avoiding future emissions. For us to deliver all of these, the Government must put a price on carbon that matches the climate emergency.

The Government is seeking to demonstrate its credentials in tackling the climate emergency in advance of chairing COP26 Summit in Glasgow. The conference is widely viewed as one of, if not the last, realistic chance for nations to commit to the major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions needed to avoid climate failure. As the UK showcases its climate change commitment and credentials on the international stage in November, we look forward to supporting further legally binding legislation for the protection of our environment and increased social value.

We are committed to acting on the climate emergency, but now the pace of our journey now needs to be faster, and our actions needs to be bolder to protect our planet and to enable communities to flourish. Stantec has established multilevel actions in five priority areas to accelerate our contribution to climate action, and work towards the objectives, targets and legislation which are due to emerge from Glasgow COP26 and beyond. We will be working up to, throughout, and beyond the event to inform and support collective transition to a more resilient and adaptive future. If you are planning to attend the conference and would like to be added to our mailing list for events at COP26 sign up here.

We look forward to providing you with further updates as more information becomes available on the legislative proposals discussed in the Queen's speech. 

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