In spirit and explicitly, the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn Budget speech signposted the route for Cambridge’s growth but, as ever, the concern is for its delivery, argues Ben Green, Barker Storey Matthews’ now part of Eddisons head of agency in Cambridge.
Budget Backing Cambridge Growth
The Autumn Budget has elicited a broad chorus of approval from business representatives and local government officials in Cambridge. Those of us with property interests are working our way through the detail in considering how the various announcements might play out in practice.
Placing knowledge businesses and digital skills at the centre of a modern industrial strategy is to be welcomed. The establishment of a new technology business fund of £500 million to cover a range of initiatives will go some way to facilitating that. As will tripling the number of Computer Science teachers and the expansion of the Teaching for Master in Maths programme and a new National Centre for Computing – no Cambridge company is going to disagree with that.
An additional £2.3 billion for the Government’s existing Research and Development (R&D) fund, plus the increase in R&D tax credits to 12 percent is welcome news for companies in pioneering technologies and life science fields.
Of interest to small and medium enterprises – the SMEs and the start-ups – was the announcement that business rates are to be uncoupled from the Retail Price Index (RPI) and aligned to the more favourable CPI – the Consumer Price Index.
Whether shortening the lifespan of each rates revaluation round to every three years will be beneficial to those same SMEs is a moot point. Many businesses are too preoccupied at present with the labyrinthian new appeals process of the current business rates regime to give thought to the next but one round of revaluations referenced by the Chancellor.
The Budget’s big ticket item in which Cambridge was referenced explicitly was in the backing of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) report – published earlier in November – in to the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc with the commitment to building one million homes across the span by 2050.
The driving force of the NIC recommendation is a £7 billion ‘expressway’ connecting the three locations by a new road and an east-west rail link. Key to Cambridge in the expressway vision is a new Cambridge South railway station at the Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Cambridge Biomedical Campus sites.
The Chancellor was explicit in referencing this arc as a ‘dynamic new growth corridor for the 21stCentury’. He was, however, less explicit in how the one million homes are going to be delivered in this arc given the pledge, in the Budget Speech, to continued protection of the Green Belt.
The gap between planning permissions granted as against what is actually built is to be the subject of a review which will deliver its interim report next spring (2018). The Chancellor said if the view was that land – with planning permission – was being held for commercial and not ‘technical’ reasons then the Government would consider ‘direct intervention’.
There is a general view in the property world that the ‘developers sitting on land’ argument is over-exaggerated. It is a convenient red herring waved about to avoid the altogether more awkward and inconvenient truths about land availability and the need for planning reform if we are going to build more roads, railways and homes.
The theme of the Autumn Budget speech was very much about looking to the future and how best the country can lay down the foundations for future prosperity. Cambridge is an area which is enjoying prosperity now. While many of us here acknowledge there is a price to pay for economic prosperity, we are acutely aware that investment is the real harbinger of growth.
For more information about property investment opportunities and office space in Cambridge and the surrounding areas, contact Ben Green, 01223 467155, [email protected]