Every Budget or Autumn Statement is notable for the measures not announced as much as those presented at the despatch box.
This week, one of the most anticipated no-shows was stamp duty reform. In particular, hope had risen that the duty owed at the point of purchase might be varied according to the energy performance of the property, or that some portion of duty might be reclaimed if efficiency were to be improved swiftly afterwards.
Alas, this seemingly promising plan – dubbed ‘rebate to renovate’ by the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) – failed to appear in chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s speech.
UKGBC deputy chief executive Simon McWhirter voiced his disappointment that such an “oven-ready proposal” had been left in the fridge. He added that its adoption would “motivate people to switch to low-carbon heating and install solar panels, while also backing British businesses by creating a large-scale, long-term retrofit market”.
UKGBC and its backers must now refocus their hopes on the Spring Budget.
Among smaller crumbs thrown in the general direction of the all-consuming climate crisis was a note, in the Autumn Statement documentation, pointing out that full expensing of capital outlay was available when “investing in solar panels and heat pumps”.
Hunt also pledged to run consultations on two other electrifying topics: putting electric vehicle charging into the National Planning Policy Framework; and new permitted development rights to allow heat pumps to be fitted closer to property boundaries.
A markedly bigger deal was the pledge to reform access to grid connections, a move trailed by Ofgem’s promise last week to shove shambling ‘zombie’ projects out of the queue for new hook-ups.
The government now plans to reform the grid connection process “to cut waiting times, including freeing up over 100 gigawatts of capacity so that projects can connect sooner”. It adds that the aim is to cut connection delays on most viable projects “from five years to no more than six months”. Measures were also announced with the aim of doubling the speed of new grid infrastructure delivery. If achieved, both would clearly be good news for developers aiming to either draw or export power when their projects reach fruition.
Developers might also applaud the promise of “new premium planning services across England” with “guaranteed accelerated decision dates for major applications and fee refunds wherever these are not met”, in place of current Planning Performance Agreements.
It remains to be seen how oven-ready this notion is, given that there is not a great deal of extra funding to swell the ranks of local authority planning officers.
Sceptics have already noted that there is no hint of an actual threshold of delay beyond which the refund might become payable. “Presumably, there will be get-out clauses for councils,” notes a world-weary Alistair Watson, UK head of planning at law firm Taylor Wessing.
Of course, while many ideas and fine details were absent from the statement, something large and awkwardly elephantine did make itself felt in the room as Hunt delivered his speech. Whatever he chose to say or delay, his party is still on course to be swept aside within a year.