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Labour proposes to speed up UK infrastructure projects

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Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor, will on Monday propose planning reforms which she claims will speed up the building of crucial infrastructure to boost Britain’s economic growth rate.

Among the proposals that she is expected to set out is an increase in the stamp duty surcharge on non-UK residents to appoint 300 new planning officers to expedite big national projects.

Labour announced last year that it would increase the surcharge on new property purchases from 2 per cent to 3 per cent, raising £25mn a year.

Reeves will also commit a future Labour government to strict fiscal discipline, with her latest proposals focused on supply side reform rather than spending billions of pounds of extra money.

After prime minister Rishi Sunak’s decision last week to scrap the northern leg of the HS2 high speed rail line — Britain’s biggest infrastructure project — Reeves will set out reforms at the Labour conference in Liverpool intended to deliver ambitious building schemes in future.

She will set out reforms to speed up planning processes for “critically important infrastructure”, with mandatory new national guidance on the priority projects for an incoming Labour government.

There would be a “fast tracking” of building plans in priority growth sectors, such as battery factories, laboratories and 5G infrastructure, and incentives for local communities that would be affected.

In an effort to address opposition to essential projects such as wind turbines and pylons, Reeves will say that people living next to critical national infrastructure will “feel the benefits”, potentially through lower energy bills. 

Reeves will also claim that Labour could tackle “egregious” and time-consuming legislation by setting national guidance for developers on the engagement expected in local consultations.

“The single biggest obstacle to building infrastructure, to investment and to growth in this country is the Conservative party,” Reeves will say.

The technical proposals reflect Reeves’s determination to develop policies that do not add to Britain’s borrowing levels and illustrate a mood of caution that pervades the Labour conference this year.

The conference decided not to debate a motion on Brexit, backed by former leader Lord Neil Kinnock, calling for Labour to negotiate a closer EU/UK relationship.

Although Starmer has talked recently about negotiating a better post-Brexit deal with the EU, the party leadership wanted to keep the emotive issue off the agenda in Liverpool.

One shadow minister said that Starmer’s team had also instructed colleagues to be careful how they behave and what they say while in Liverpool. “We’ve been told that Tory spies are here,” said one.

Reeves will claim that growth must be accompanied by what she called “iron discipline” on the economy.

“Working people rightly expect nothing less,” she will say. “A Labour government will not waver from ironclad fiscal rules, nor play the Tory game of undermining our economic institutions.”

In a sign of Labour’s increasingly close relationship with business, senior executives were lined up to welcome Reeves’s planning proposals.

Martin McTague, chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “This is a clear, grown-up policy that will help deliver infrastructure projects we need to stay competitive, return to growth and stop the curse of chopping and changing.”

His comments are likely to be seen as a riposte to Sunak’s recent U-turns on HS2 and net zero targets, which have been criticised by UK business leaders for creating economic uncertainty.

The planning system has long been a sore point for clean energy developers, who complain it takes too long to get planning permission, slowing down growth despite stretching targets.

On Sunday, Labour also set out other measures to speed up the development of new electricity networks, amid concerns that undercapacity is delaying efforts to move away from fossil fuels. 

It plans to open up network development to competitive tendering, with its planned publicly owned energy company, GB Energy, potentially bidding to develop fresh capacity, and co-ordinating tenders for cable supplies. 

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