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Small government, big priorities

Brexit / iStock-542799318

What does the election result mean for planing and the built environment? Jonathan Manns reads the runes

“Just when we thought global politics couldn’t get more weird,” said Rebekah Paczek of communications firm Snapdragon Consulting, the day after the election, “Britain responds – ‘hold my pint’…” That was before Theresa May began exploring a minority government supported by the DUP.

The election’s implications remain unclear but will be profound. The prime minister’s majority has vanished. It’s now the 1922 Committee and not Team Theresa in control. Key players such as Damian Green, Graham Brady and Philip Hammond have scope to set the agenda. They’ll be supported by Gavin Barwell at No. 10 who, having lost his ministerial role, has another chance to influence policy.

The Conservatives presented themselves as the only ones able to deliver Brexit. Unfortunately, nobody knew what that meant. 

Brexit is now the pressing task and the defining generational issue. Planners, charged with defining long-term evidence-based visions, may find all assumptions incorrect. 

"Brexit is now the pressing task and defining generational issue"

It’s reasonable to assume the economy will take centre stage and that some change is inevitable. This will by definition have spatial implications. London will probably remain an important global city but Britain’s relationship with its key trading partner will be permanently altered. There’s a foreseeable impact on the service sector, as an exporter to the EU accounting for some 12 per cent of GDP. 

The capital’s over-heated housing market may struggle. Securing investment in UK PLC could require a devaluation of the pound. Interest rates would rise. Mortgages would become more expensive and residential prices would readjust. The Bank of England’s starting point would probably be to keep short-term rates low, even if inflation rises, to avoid risk to the housing market and spending. Extensions of Help to Buy and reductions to stamp duty could avoid a big devaluation, but the capital may no longer accelerate as quickly ahead of other regional cities.

A regional revival could be on the cards. The country’s weak manufacturing base and ‘productivity puzzle’ means possible lost economic ground will be hard to make up. Austerity has hit England’s regions hard but May’s previous government was willing to seed local initiatives. New combined authorities, fronted by elected mayors, offer hope. A National Spatial Plan may be off-key, but self-determining stakeholders taking advantage of borrowing powers introduced in 2016 constitute live opportunities in tune with the times.

Jonathan Manns is a director of Colliers International

Photo | iStock


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