Prime Minister chooses West Midlands to set out vision for the UK

Photo shows: Boris Johnson the Prime Minister at Dudley Institute of Technology. Photo Credit AFP
Boris Johnson at Speller Metcalfe. Image Credit- AFP

“We cannot continue simply to be prisoners of this crisis.”

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson chose the West Midlands to set out what his government sees as the way ahead out of the current crisis, at Malvern-headquartered construction company Speller Metcalfe’s building site at The Dudley Institute of Technology in Dudley.

It’s time to think and plan for the future, he said, and to be ready for what may be coming.

He flagged up that the UK has some of the best and most productive companies in the world, but he acknowledged that this country isn’t as nationally productive as many of our global competitors.

As trailed yesterday, the prime minister confirmed that more than £14 billion has been set aside to invest in primary and secondary education between now and 2023, to include a new 10-year school building programme, beginning with £1 billion for the for the first 50 schools and a further £1.5 billion programme of refurbishing the UK’s dilapidated Further Education sector.

Responding to this announcement, Councillor Marcus Hart, Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Education and Skills at Worcestershire County Council, said: “We have been lobbying for national capital funding from government and welcome the announcement from the Prime Minister. We hope that our schools in Worcestershire will benefit from this additional investment and we can continue to raise the standards of school buildings across the county and help ensure every child and young person enjoys their education and achieves the very best outcomes. We are currently without any details as to how and if this will affect schools in Worcestershire, as the initial round of funding will be targeted at school buildings in the worst condition across England.”

The Prime Minister also promised better roads, better rail, 4,000 new zero carbon buses and a big new plan for cycleways.

Included in the government’s road plans are

  • £4.9 million to repair two bridges in Sandwell to improve safety for nearby key roads in the West Midlands that will be used heavily during the 2022 Commonwealth Games
  • £5 million to begin further maintenance on the Swanswell Viaduct in Coventry

The Transport Secretary also announced today that more than 50 bids have been received from local authorities across the country for a share of the Restoring Your Railways ‘Ideas Fund’.

This marks the next step for the second round of the fund which will offer support to develop proposals to build or reopen lines and stations closed during the Beeching cuts, with the potential to level up regional economies and boost access to jobs and education.

“Build, Build, Build”

And there are massive plans to change the UK’s sluggish planning system.

“Delays in our system are a massive drag on the productivity and the prosperity of this country, and so we will build better and build greener but we will also build faster,” said Boris.

The government is setting up “Project Speed” to “scythe through red tape and get things done” he added.

New regulations will give greater freedom for buildings and land in town centres to change use without planning permission and create new homes from the regeneration of vacant and redundant buildings.

Under the new rules, existing commercial properties, including newly vacant shops, can be converted into residential housing more easily, in a move to kick start the construction industry and speed up rebuilding. The changes include:

  • More types of commercial premises having total flexibility to be repurposed through reform of the Use Classes Order. A building used for retail, for instance, would be able to be permanently used as a café or office without requiring a planning application and local authority approval. Pubs, libraries, village shops and other types of uses essential to the lifeblood of communities will not be covered by these flexibilities.
  • A wider range of commercial buildings will be allowed to change to residential use without the need for a planning application.
  • 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.
  • Property owners will be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation.

The changes are planned to come into effect by September through changes to the law.

Developers will still need to adhere to high standards and regulations, just without the unnecessary red tape.

The Prime Minister also announced that work will begin to look at how land owned by the government can be managed more effectively.

Up to 7,500 new homes across the West Midlands are to be built on former industrial land after Boris Johnson announced an extra £84 million to expand the region’s trailblazing brownfield regeneration programme.

Funds from the £400m Brownfield Land Fund have also been allocated to Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region, and North of Tyne and Tees Valley to support around 24,000 homes.

Since the £100 million Brownfield Fund was given to the West Midlands Combine Authority (WMCA) as part of its Housing Deal in March 2018, sites such as Friar Park in Sandwell, the largest brownfield housing site in the region, have been made ready for redevelopment by the WMCA.

Last week the region submitted a £3.2 billion West Midlands investment plan to Government, which included a request for further funding for brownfield land regeneration.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “The West Midlands has been leading the way since 2018 on regenerating brownfield land to create thousands of new homes, and I am pleased the Prime Minister has given us the cash needed to keep the work going at pace. It is also encouraging that just one week after submitting our £3.2 billion investment plan to Government, one of the requests has already started to come to fruition.”

New Science Funding Agency announced

Turning to jobs, he announced “Opportunity Guarantee” so that every young person has the chance of apprenticeship or an in-work placement.

This summer the government will also be creating a new science funding agency to back high risk, high reward projects.

“because in the next 100 years the most successful societies will be the most innovative societies,” said the Prime Minister.

“We in this country have the knack of innovation. We lead the world in quantum computing, in life sciences, in genomics, in AI, space satellites, net zero planes, and in the long term solutions to global warming, wind, solar, hydrogen technology, carbon capture and storage, nuclear….

Boris’s ambition went on: “and as part of our mission to reach Net Zero CO2 emissions by 2050, we should set ourselves the goal now of producing the world’s first zero emission long haul passenger plane

“Jet Zero, let’s do it.”

ADS Group is the Trade Organisation for companies operating in the UK Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space sectors.

ADS Chief Executive Paul Everitt said: “Today’s speech from the Prime Minister is a welcome acknowledgement of the skills and expertise the UK’s aerospace sector provides. Now the Government needs to extend funding of the Aerospace Technology Institute out to 2036 to enable us to deliver the goal and make the UK a world leader in hybrid and electric aircraft.

“Alongside boosting investment in aerospace innovation, Government should establish a long-term investment fund for our supply chains, use procurement opportunities to maximise prosperity from defence and space projects, provide targeted resources for the UK’s security and resilience sector and ensure direct support to safeguard jobs and skills.”

Boris continued: “We must end the chasm between invention and application that means a brilliant British discovery disappears to California and becomes a billion dollar American company or a Chinese company.”

Responding to the Prime Minister’s speech, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said: “The economic impact of the global pandemic risks fracturing communities for a generation. Plans for a jobs-first recovery, underpinned by a restorative injection of infrastructure investment, could help limit the damage and set the UK on course to build back better.

“The Prime Minister’s commitment to upgrade and decarbonise our transport infrastructure, in all UK regions and nations, lays strong foundations. Upgrading and building new English schools, prisons and hospitals will mobilise the construction industry supporting millions of workers and job opportunities. And cutting red tape should help prioritise the building of widely available, truly affordable homes. Together with commitments on R&D and innovation, these are the first steps on the path to recovery.

“Foundations are there to be built on. More is needed to prevent the uneven scarring unemployment leaves on communities.

“Guaranteeing apprenticeships and in-work placements are a start. Details are needed now so providers are ready. Other ideas business would like to see include further wage support to protect jobs, a new jobs programme to create opportunities and more funding for future skills in high potential areas such as digital, low carbon and health.

“The reality is that longer-term plans will falter without continued help for firms still in desperate difficulty. Government intervention so far has saved countless jobs, yet anxious months for many still lie ahead. The focus on rescuing viable firms cannot slip while the UK looks to recovery, or earlier efforts could be wasted.”