PM’S vision of New Deal for a better Britain
Johnson says he will harness the spirit nation showed in pandemic to forge a new way forward
BORIS JOHNSON yesterday unveiled what he called the biggest planning revolution since the Second World War as he promised to turn the coronavirus crisis into an opportunity to reshape Britain.
The Prime Minister said harnessing the can-do spirit of the nation in tackling the virus and blending it with the “superhuman energy” of Captain Tom Moore could produce a “magic potion … to get us through these dark times”.
In a speech designed to recalibrate the Government’s focus from crisis management to plotting a way forward, Mr Johnson set out how his administration intends to spend £640billion over the next five years in a “New Deal” to restore the economy.
In front of an audience of just 24 at Dudley College of Technology in the West Midlands, the most allowed by social distancing, he warned of “tough times ahead”, but said by “believing in Britain” the nation could emerge stronger than ever before.
The Prime Minister has set up a new infrastructure unit dubbed “Project Speed” under Rishi Sunak to “scythe through red tape” and ensure major planning projects get the go-ahead much faster than ever before.
It will be part of the “most radical” reforms of the planning system in 70 years, Mr Johnson said, and will sweep away obstacles standing in the way of development.
It will become easier to get permission to turn commercial buildings into residential homes without requiring change of use permission, and it will also become easier to develop brownfield sites, which Mr Johnson said will make way for “fantastic new homes”.
Builders will no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes.
Pubs, libraries and village shops will not be covered by the changes as they are “essential to the lifeblood of communities”.
It will also be possible to build more space above properties through a fasttrack planning system, subject to neighbour consultation.
Citing the fact that HS2 was costing the equivalent of the GDP of Sri Lanka, and that Crossrail took 35 years to become a reality, Mr Johnson said that “time is money” and so delays in the planning system must be minimised.
He railed against “newt-counting delays” where wildlife surveys can take months or longer to complete and said that as well as building faster, he would “build a more beautiful Britain” with developments that are more in tune with their surroundings.
Mr Johnson also hinted at possible development on greenfield sites, saying that as well as brownfield sites the Government would use “other areas that with better transport and other infrastructure could frankly be suitable and right for development”.
A housing revolution
Mr Johnson criticised the “chronic failure of the British state” to build enough homes, “decade after decade”, and said he would “address intergenerational injustice” by ensuring young people could get on the housing ladder “like their parents and grandparents could”.
He confirmed a £12 billion affordable homes programme that will support up to 180,000 new affordable homes in England over the next eight years.
But Labour suggested the policy had been watered down, as the time frame for building the new homes had been set at five years in the last Budget.
The homes programme will include a 1,500-unit pilot of “First Homes” which will be sold to first-time buyers at a 30 per cent discount.
The Government remains committed to its target of building 300,000 homes per year to end the housing crisis, Mr Johnson said. This would partly be achieved by his planning revolution cutting hold-ups and obstacles.
Transport and infrastructure
As well as major projects such as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, Mr Johnson said the biggest infrastructure projects would include dualling the A1 to Scotland – first proposed in 1992 – and building the 40 new hospitals he has previously promised.
He would also “unblock the central Manchester bottleneck that delays services across the north” and fund 4,000 new zero-carbon buses and a “massive new plan for cycleways”.
He said “now is the moment” to strengthen transport links between the four countries of the UK. This will include a feasibility study into a bridge between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, Downing Street confirmed. Mr Johnson has already announced a 10-year schools rebuilding programme, with £1billion for the first 50 projects beginning next year.
A scientific superpower
Mr Johnson said while Britain was “no longer a military superpower” it could become a “science superpower” by investing in research and development.
In an echo of John F Kennedy’s challenge to the US to be first to the Moon, Mr Johnson threw down the gauntlet to British firms to build the world’s first zero-emissions long-haul aeroplane.
He said: “As part of our mission to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, we should set ourselves the goal … Jet Zero – let’s do it!” He added it was time to “end the chasm between innovation and application” by ensuring ideas born in Britain did not end up as a commercial success in the US or China.
A new science funding agency will back “high risk, high reward projects” and an Office for Talent will be set up in No 10 to make it easier for world-leading scientists and innovators to come to the UK.
Opportunity guarantee for those whose jobs are gone
Mr Johnson admitted that there would be “tough times ahead” and that “as the economy recovers we know that the jobs that many people had in January are not coming back”.
He said: “We are waiting as if between the flash of lightning and the thunderclap with our hearts in our mouths for the full economic reverberations [of coronavirus] to appear.”
He also said that “we know in our hearts that the furloughing cannot go on forever” but gave an “opportunity guarantee” to every young person to ensure an apprenticeship or in-work placement to help them gain the skills and confidence to find a new job.
Mr Johnson added the Government would help to create “thousands of high-paid, high-skilled jobs” by supporting British firms that make commercial breakthroughs.
I am not a Communist
Mr Johnson admitted his “New Deal”, inspired by Franklin D Roosevelt’s recovery plan for Depression-era America, “sounds like a prodigious amount of government intervention”, and felt the need to clarify: “I am not a Communist.” He said that as well as clapping NHS workers, the Government also clapped “innovators, wealth creators, capitalists and financiers” but added that a huge programme of State-funded schemes was “what the times demand”.
He said he wanted to head “a Government that is powerful and determined and that puts its arms around people at a time of crisis, that tackles homelessness, the inequalities that drive people to food banks”.
Wait-and-see on tax rises
Mr Johnson promised there would be no return to austerity to pay for his grand plans, saying “we won’t cheesepare our way out of trouble” and said he would not stage a “punitive raid on wealth creators”.
But he did not rule out tax rises for the wealthy when asked how the country was eventually going to pay back the money it will have to borrow.
It was pointed out to him that Roosevelt had to tax the wealthy to pay for his New Deal. He said: “I think you should really wait to see what the Chancellor has to say in the course of the next few weeks and months but I remain absolutely determined to ensure that the tax burden, insofar as we possibly can, is reasonable.”
He also hinted at possible pay rises for NHS workers.
‘I want to head a Government that is powerful and determined and puts its arms around people in a time of crisis’
Boris Johnson also visited the construction site of the new Dudley Institute of Technologies on his visit to the West Midlands