Prime Minister announces acceleration of hospital building programme

In 'most-radical reform of planning system since the Second World War; Boris Johnson outlines how capital funding boost will kickstart the UK economy

Bringing forward the £1.5billion investment in healthcare infrastructure is part of a wider overhaul of the planning system

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has revealed plans to revitalise the economy with a £5billion capital funding boost that will help the country ‘build back better, build back greener, build back faster and to do that at the pace that this moment requires’.

In an announcement yesterday, which he dubbed ‘the most-radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War’; he announced the Government was making it easier to build better homes where people want to live.

This decision to accelerate infrastructure spending underlines the important role it can play in kickstarting economic recovery

And he is making the planning system easier so that people can improve their homes and change the use of buildings without the current red tape.

As part of the deal he also announced he was bringing forward £5billion of capital investment projects, supporting jobs and the economic recovery, including £1.5billion this year for hospital maintenance, concentrating on eradicating mental health dormitories, enabling hospital building, and improving A&E capacity.

The move, he claimed, would improve patient care, make sure NHS hospitals could deliver world-leading services, and reduce the risk of coronavirus infections.

The moneypot also includes £100m this year for 29 road network projects; and over £1billion to fund the first 50 projects of a new, 10-year school rebuilding programme.

In a speech in the West Midlands, Johnson said: “It sounds positively Rooseveltian. It sounds like a New Deal.

“All I can say is that, if so, then that is how it is meant to sound and to be, because that is what the times demand - a government that is powerful and determined and that puts its arms around people at a time of crisis.

This is a chance for the UK construction industry to put past lessons to good use and drive national economic recovery

“This is a government that is wholly committed not just to defeating coronavirus, but to using this crisis finally to tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges of the last three decades. To build the homes, to fix the NHS, to tackle the skills crisis, to mend the indefensible gap in opportunity and productivity and connectivity between the regions of the UK. To unite and level up.

“To that end we will build build build. Build back better, build back greener, build back faster and to do that at the pace that this moment requires.”

But, while his announcement has been widely welcomed by the construction industry, there are concerns it is too short-term a solution.

Jacqueline Hughes, senior risk analyst at Equib, which specialises in advising on major-scale infrastructure projects, told BBH: “This decision to accelerate infrastructure spending underlines the important role it can play in kickstarting economic recovery.

“However, a longer-term strategy is still needed.

“Working at speed brings challenges, which will require careful project management.

“In particular, project teams will need to balance the need to adhere to COVID-19 constraints, with the need to deliver buildings that are fit for purpose, as quickly as possible.

The Government has a small window to make a real difference and improve the lives of the population, while simultaneously easing pressure on the health and social care system and stimulating the housing market

“Speeding up the delivery of infrastructure projects must not lead to corners being cut.

“There are several potential issues here. For example, if procurement procedures are circumvented, or abbreviated in some way, this could mean taxpayers don’t get value for money.

“Early-stage workshops must also be thorough, ensuring there is input from contractors, to avoid the need for costly delays or redesigns at a later stage.

“This is a chance for the UK construction industry to put past lessons to good use and drive national economic recovery.”

Clive Docwra, managing firector of property and construction consultancy McBains, added: “On the face of it, the PM’s announcement is extremely encouraging.

“A building boom is exactly what the construction sector and the economy needs after being decimated by the COVID-19 crisis.

“Construction output levels are at historic lows, initially suffering from productivity challenges brought about through lockdown and social distancing measures, and potentially in the future medium to longer term by uncertainty and recessionary pressures.

Unless the Government works to facilitate the building of many more houses for people as they get older, which have care attached, it’s continuing to bury it’s head in the sand

“For example, private new housing work is at its lowest level for a decade and last month saw a record fall in private commercial work, so public-sector projects like new hospitals will be of huge importance in order for the sector to get back on its feet again.

“Ultimately, clarity of pipeline and early commitments to policy changes will enable businesses to plan and invest, and thus support employment and economic growth.

“Plus, if we are to really experience an infrastructure and construction boom that truly levels up, we need to see construction firms from all corners of the UK, and of all shapes and sizes, not just the multinationals, be a part of these plans.”

But Nick Sanderson, chief executive of Audley Group, called for the Government to move away from concentrating on new homes for first-time buyers, and instead address the huge shortfall in social care facilities and homes for older people.

“It’s not the first time the Prime Minister has promised radical housing and planning reform. He’s told us he will build better, build greener, build faster. But those are empty promises if he doesn’t build smarter,” he said.

“The devastating events of the past three months should have opened the Government’s eyes to the need to tackle housing and social care change together, and not in silo.

“Care homes have been put through the wringer, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

“Unless the Government works to facilitate the building of many more houses for people as they get older, which have care attached, it’s continuing to bury it’s head in the sand.

If we are to really experience an infrastructure and construction boom that truly levels up, we need to see construction firms from all corners of the UK, and of all shapes and sizes, not just the multinationals, be a part of these plans

“The ultimate and tragic cost of that oversight could be people’s lives.

“Giving older people appropriate living options that offer a range of services and support has never been more important.

“The Government has a small window to make a real difference and improve the lives of the population, while simultaneously easing pressure on the health and social care system and stimulating the housing market.

“Now is time to use that window, and build smarter.”

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