Will the government’s growth plans still deliver for aggregates?

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Some have argued that Britain could find its road back to growth by backing big infrastructure projects but, for now, the future is obscure.

A tumultuous few weeks for the British government leaves open questions for the aggregates sector. 

The government’s Growth Plan, launched on 23 September by former chancellor of the exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng, included significant news for the aggregates sector: high among the new prime minister and chancellor’s priorities would be “accelerating the construction of vital infrastructure projects by liberalising the planning system and streamlining consultation and approval requirements”. 

Detailed in an annex to the plan were 86 proposed road improvement schemes, 10 rail improvement plans and a number of local transport projects, as well as energy projects in nuclear, wind and oil and gas. Clearly, if this work was to go ahead – and it should be noted that the annex specifically noted that being listed did not guarantee either planning permission or funding  – it would represent a filip for the sector.

A focus on materials

Before the appointment of Jeremy Hunt as Kwarteng’s replacement, the Mineral Products Association (MPA) gave a cautious welcome to the growth plan.

Aurelie Delannoy, director of economic affairs at MPA, said that the UK economy appeared to be “well on the path to recession”, and businesses had adjusted their expectations and made plans accordingly. 

Delannoy welcomed the proposed  tax cuts and temporary relief on energy costs as likely to help cushion the blow, but said the few months to come remain challenging.

“A medium-term target of 2.5% trend rate of economic growth is commendable, if arbitrary. Putting infrastructure delivery at the heart of such ambition has long been supported by the mineral products industry, which stands ready to supply the essential construction materials needed, estimated to be some 4 billion tonnes of aggregates over the next 15 years,” she said.

Robert McIlveen, director of public affairs at MPA described the plan as “hugely ambitious” but his colleague Mark Russell, executive director for Planning said there needed to be a greater emphasis on materials.

“Government needs to recognise that all parts of the national economy are impacted by planning and consenting delays, so solely fixing them for infrastructure projects is unlikely to result in miraculous growth. That simply shifts the delays elsewhere in the economy – you can’t build infrastructure if you can’t access the raw materials required. A more joined up and holistic solution is required.”

What now for the growth plan?

Whatever the ambitions may have been, however, with a sudden change of chancellor the next step is unclear. New chancellor Jeremy Hunt has said that despite “mistakes” in the economic programme put forward by his predecessor, overall the growth plan was the right move to make. 

However, dramatic changes are not impossible to imagine. Indeed, since then Hunt has rolled back much of his predecessor’s budget and the prime minister’s hold on office is being hotly debated in both the press and the corridors of power.

For its part, the Treasury has said the chancellor will make a full announcement of his plans on 31 October. Although they will not be alone, the aggregates and construction sectors will certainly be among those paying close attention.

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