A general sense of disappointment greeted Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Spring Budget when members of the UK Property Forums’ Editorial Panel were asked for their views.

A ‘missed opportunity’ ‘and ‘little help for the Thames Valley’ characterised a number of responses although support for innovation and relaxing immigration rules for construction workers got the thumbs up.

Here are the responses from our sponsors and partners:

John Russell, director of Motion Consultants, said:  “A rather disappointing, but unsurprising, Budget statement so far as the Thames Valley is concerned, with the headlines focussing on investment zones, none of which are in or near the Thames Valley.

“Notwithstanding this, it is encouraging to see the Chancellor specifically mentioning East-West Rail and recognising the boost this will give to the growth in life sciences.

“Hopefully, the promised announcement in May regarding the Bedford-Cambridge section of the route will provide some delivery certainty for the scheme, and add some momentum to sustainable plan making around new stations.”

Nick Burrows, chairman and partner of Blandy & Blandy, said: “Whilst some of the measures may have the effect of encouraging some back to work, or into work for the first time, none of the measures is likely to ease the recruitment problems that the professions are seeing at the moment.

“The business capital spending tax allowances for business may encourage further investment in the country and will, hopefully, offset any negative effects of the increase in corporation tax.

“So far as Reading and its surrounds are concerned, I am not convinced that any of the measures seen in the Budget will have any significant effect on the region.”

Philip Waddy, managing director of WWA, said: “The extra childcare support is  welcome and will enable more parents to return to work which should help boost recruitment in many sectors, although one wonders if this was a political move to steal Labour’s thunder at the next election.

“Labour shortages in the construction industry continue to be an issue in driving up costs so granting visas to overseas workers will potentially reduce construction inflation although, by the time the policy is felt on the ground, I wonder just how busy the construction world will be, given current economic forecasts.

“I would have liked to see more support for the public housing sector, allowing local authorities to invest in building their own housing, including retrofitting to reduce homeowners energy costs and carbon emissions.”

Brian Dowling, partner at Boyes Turner, said: “The technical fiscal changes introduced by the Budget are limited, and in particular there are no significant cuts or increases to Stamp Duty Land Tax, and no new ‘holidays’ or exemptions from paying it.

“There is no new money really, which should be expected when you consider the amount spent on recovery from Covid, the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis, and the impacts of the November Budget.

“Although we all have to acknowledge the economic reality and, in some respects, should welcome a cautious Budget, this still feels like a missed opportunity.

“For example, imagine the benefit of increasing funding for education of new planning officers and support for their full time engagement and employment in council planning teams.

“Or pressing ahead with drastically simplifying the community infrastructure levy and the interplay with s106 contributions. Or reducing/eliminating VAT on brownfield property transactions. These are all targeted interventions where the benefit could easily far exceed the cost.”

Iain Painting, planning director at Barton Willmore, now Stantec, said: “The optimistic tone of the Chancellor’s ‘Budget for growth’ was welcome, but beyond the top line ambitions it missed a lot of the detail we would like to see, including on wider planning reform.

“The lack of clarity from past governments on how to tackle the longstanding issues in the planning system has often caused market uncertainty and this still needs addressing.

“Nonetheless, we are seeing more clearly how Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt’s administration will approach devolution and levelling-up – and the more focused and strategic method is a good sign.

“Investment zones have been scaled back from their origins under Liz Truss and will now aim to create 12 innovation clusters around key UK universities and research institutes – taking advantage of Britain’s leading role in the life sciences sector to draw investment to regional hubs.

“This is a positive hark back to enterprise zones – with an opportunity to go further and to refine and improve how zones like these will work.

“This targeting of certain areas will increase the chance of this policy making a real impact, especially when combined with the radical devolution of responsibilities to mayoral authorities, covering significant regeneration, infrastructure, and housing powers.

“Strategic planning must still sit at the heart of this and we should resist any broad-brush planning deregulation that has been mooted for these zones.

“We have a chance for local regions to bring together housing, health, education and skills, infrastructure and investment policy in a targeted way.  This has the potential to provide certainty and a platform for investment and collaboration between communities, Government, and enterprise.”

David Jones, managing director of Evans Jones, said: “Within the 2023 Budget, announced by Jeremy Hunt, new options have been opened up as part of the levelling up agenda.

“Most of the changes are focused on regional levelling up goals, to help provide more funding for regeneration and investment, along with the creation of 12 investment zones.

“Additionally, it was announced that local leaders will have greater responsibility to grow their local economy. Whilst the measures proposed by the Government have admirable aims in increasing investment, in their current state they are unclear as to what is actually being provided.

“Certainly, the focus remains on the northern centres with little, either positive or negative, for the development industry more generally.”

Helen Todd, managing director of Stubbings Property Marketing, said: “This week’s Budget lacked any real assistance for the UK housing market.

“Since the end of Help to Buy, it has become incredibly challenging for first time buyers to take that initial step onto the housing ladder.  As a result, we are seeing a resurgence in the bank of mum and dad, as parents, once again, have to step up to offer financial assistance.

“We were hoping the budget would offer some practical, tangible measures from the Government to assist those looking to commence their home buying journey. Without a replacement for Help to Buy, the reality of home ownership is a distant dream for many.

“We have recently taken part in the Government’s First Homes pilot, which has proved hugely successful at Novus Apartments in Slough. We are hopeful that this scheme, which allows purchasers to secure a new home with a 30 per cent discount on the market price, may at some point be introduced on a wider level.

“This scheme has proved a lifeline for many, making home ownership accessible to a wider pool of would-be first time buyers, especially key workers.”

Nick Pettit, senior partner at Bidwells, said: “The Government have made clear their commitment to ‘delivering high quality infrastructure to boost growth across the country’ (3.134, Spring Budget).

“But since Brexit, the UK has seen a drought in the labour supply of construction workers, making the development of key commercial infrastructure challenging.

“When speaking on levelling up, the Budget has revealed that construction will be added to the list of sectors with relaxed immigration requirements (3.42, Spring Budget). This move will help to accelerate the development of much-needed infrastructure across the Oxford to Cambridge Arc, particularly much-needed office and laboratory space.

“I welcome the Government’s pledge to relax immigration requirements for construction workers. This move will provide a boost to the development of new infrastructure across the UK, enabling us to bring more ambitious projects to fruition and create jobs for local communities.

“By ensuring that the industry has access to the skilled workers it needs, we can help to drive growth, strengthen local economies, and build a better future for all.”

Stuart Grant, chief executive of ARC, said: “The value of R&D cannot be understated. We are delighted to see the Chancellor act in response to the many science and innovation-based companies that rely on the existence of the R&D tax credits scheme.

“It will help companies operating across deep tech and life science to continue to attract and retain world-leading talent and have the materials to develop the fundamentally important technologies required to make the UK a leader in the fields of science and innovation.

“We want to continue to attract global companies to the UK to work side-by-side with the fast-growth ventures born here and the nascent businesses being spun out of our excellent academic institutions.

“It’s the richness of companies clustering together that will deliver a model community capable of competing internationally.

“Following a week in which the Chancellor also acted swiftly to support venture capital-backed start-ups affected by the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, we see this, as well as the quantum computing strategy and AI Sandbox commitments, as hugely positive moves in the right direction for our sector.

“I welcome the government’s pledge to relax immigration requirements for construction workers. This move will provide a boost to the development of new infrastructure across the UK, enabling us to bring more ambitious projects to fruition and create jobs for local communities. By ensuring that the industry has access to the skilled workers it needs, we can help to drive growth, strengthen local economies, and build a better future for all.”

Image: Posted by: HM Treasury and The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MPPhotographer: Andrew Parsons, OGL 3 <http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3>, via Wikimedia Commons

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