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The Queen’s Speech 2021: Levelling up infrastructure

By - World Infrastructure Journal

The Queen’s Speech 2021: Levelling up infrastructure

Like the many other events that have received the pandemic treatment in the last year, the Queen’s Speech 2021 was a more toned-down affair compared to the usual State Opening of Parliament. With less royal pageantry and MPs in the chamber, the speech itself was similarly slimmed down. Despite this, infrastructure still had an important role to play as the government’s levelling-up agenda was put firmly centre stage of the legislative priorities for the next year.


Connectivity  

  • Proposals will be taken forward to transform connectivity by rail and bus and to extend 5G mobile coverage and gigabit capable broadband.

Improvements to connectivity, in all its forms were set out today as part of the government’s commitment to investing and improving national infrastructure. Afterthe announcement of more funding in March’s Budget, this has not come as much of a surprise, especially considering the role digital connectivity has played in supporting the UK economy over the past year. Whilst it is a positive step that connectivity continues to be increasingly highlighted as a key priority, there is still much to be done in the way of connecting large rural areas of the UK, and preparing for the future capabilities of digital innovation in the economy. It is crucial to use this opportunity in the next legislative year to not only improve our infrastructure but build forward for the connectivity needs of the future.

The future of the UK has been a contested topic since national and local election results came in, and so it was expected that the speech would emphasise the government’s need to “strengthen the economic ties across the union”. It is perhaps unexpected that improving bus and rail links was named as a key component of attempting to secure this future union. However, given the pandemic’s impact on the public transport system, this next year will be a crucial period in how the government plans to shape the rail network post-franchising.


Housing and construction 

  • My 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, along with measures to end the practice of ground rents for new leasehold properties.

  • My Ministers will establish in law a new Building Safety Regulator to ensure that the tragedies of the past are never repeated.

In a week which has seen another fire in an apartment building fitted with yet to be removed flammable cladding , the introduction of a Building Safety Regulator can only be welcomed. Undoubtedly those working in the construction industry will be waiting to see exactly what this means for their everyday work which is already being impacted by safety requirements that often change in the lifetime of one project.

Similarly, given the long-awaited planning reform’s claim to be the biggest shake-up of the system since the Second World War, this is likely to have big repercussions across both the public and private sector. Following the end of the public consultation for ‘Planning for a better future’ at the end of last year, this should be expected sooner rather than later – meaning building back better could look a whole lot like building back different.

One thing that the pandemic has highlighted more than ever is the privilege of having a space you are happy to call home. With many policy-driven schemes such as five per cent mortgages having emerged in the last year, it was expected that home-ownership would continue to be a big part of the government’s agenda. However, given the many commitments by government to abolish Section 21 evictions and reform the deposits system, this has yet to come to fruition. Whilst improving renter’s rights will be a welcome addition to the Queen’s Speech, it is crucial that this comes in to action.

Alicia Kennedy, CEO of housing charity Generation Rent said: “While the government’s intentions are positive, renters have already been waiting for tenancy reforms for two years. The government rightly wants to learn the lessons of the pandemic but must use the months ahead to make sure that the private rental market is suitable for all the people who now depend on it. ” 


Sustainability  

  • My Government will invest in new green industries to create jobs, while protecting the environment.

  • The United Kingdom is committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and will continue to lead the way internationally by hosting the COP26 Summit in Glasgow.

It would have been something of a surprise had sustainability not made an appearance in this year’s legislative outline given COP26 is just around the corner. It expectedly failed to deliver any shock-value especially as the 2050 net-zero target already seems a relic on the political agenda. However, if the UK really is to successfully meet these goals it is crucial that this is kept in mind in every legislative decision. Investing in specific green industries is beneficial but can only go so far.

To reach net-zero, sustainability cannot be just one section of a legislative agenda. Instead, the government needs to ensure that it is a factor in its decision-making at every level and in every sector. This will require an integrated and long-term approach like no other and one thing is certain - that even as governments of all political persuasions come and go, sustainability will remain firmly on the legislative agenda.


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