Green-light for infrastructure schemes and a date for the NPPF are welcome developments

So the wait is over - almost. George Osborne’s confirmation this week that the government’s National Planning Policy Framework will be published next Tuesday will bring some welcome certainty to developers - even if its absence from the Budget itself means they will have to endure a final week’s delay. The chancellor’s commitment to “growth-friendly planning rules”, together with confirmation of a drive to secure major private investment in roads, and approval for several sizeable infrastructure schemes, made Wednesday’s statement overall a quietly positive one for the sector.

It was disappointing that there was not more detail on the reformed PFI, which will be crucial to the success of plans to boost the economy through infrastructure investment

It was disappointing though that there was not more detail on the reformed PFI initiative, which will be crucial to the success of plans to boost the economy through infrastructure investment. As KPMG’s Richard Threlfall writes this week, while the focus on infrastructure is encouraging, the government needs to take some bold policy decisions to turn its statements on boosting development into reality. And for plans to have an impact on the ground, this needs to happen as a matter of urgency.

Away from the Budget, one piece of news to emerge this week that will please many within the industry is that the government is working towards a relaxation of the restrictions around firms promoting their involvement in the Olympic construction programme. As Building’s 2012 campaign is demonstrating, these firms have a huge amount to be proud of - and if they can celebrate that, it could be as beneficial to the UK sector as some of the reforms Osborne is painstakingly trying to piece together.

Eastern promise

The China conundrum is one that many UK-based firms have struggled with in recent years: the rapidly growing construction market has also been one of the most difficult for western companies to gain a hold on thanks to heavy state control and obvious cultural differences.

Now the equation seems to be tipping. Since 2010, China has been the world’s biggest construction market with an annual spend in the region of £500bn, making it increasingly attractive as firms continue to be hit by the downturn in the UK and markets such as the Middle East. With a growing awareness of issues such as sustainability and urban planning, there is also clearer demand than ever before for international expertise.

Despite fears that the country’s economic boom could be heading for a so-called “hard landing”, China’s need for construction is obvious - it has almost 20% of the world’s population, and is in the middle of an immense urbanisation programme, with all the social, commercial and transport infrastructure that that entails. As one consultant said this week: “This isn’t Dubai: there’s a real population, and the market has a long way to go.”

So as more and more companies look East, Building will be bringing you exclusive insight into the market, beginning with our special this week, and including an indepth white paper on the opportunities and challenges in the sector, to be published next month.

Sarah Richardson, deputy editor