Reform UK pushes modular and brownfield policies in election ‘contract’

Reform UK has pledged to incentivise new construction technology and brownfield development in its manifesto published on Monday (17 June).

The party’s “contract” with the electorate would offer unspecified incentives for modular construction and digital technology to “speed up building”.

Reform also pledged to “fast-track” planning and tax incentives for the development of brownfield sites.

Uniquely among the parties to release their manifestos, Reform said the document is open to feedback. Reform leader Nigel Farage invited businesses and organisations to submit their thoughts before the “contract” is finalised later this year.

In its current form, the document refers to a “loose-fit planning policy for large residential developments with preapproved guidelines and developer requirements”, although there was no extra detail.

Additional policies include a commitment to scrap net-zero legislation and accelerate the adoption of nuclear energy with small modular reactors.

Reform would focus on improving transport infrastructure in coastal regions, the Midlands, Northern England and Wales.

But “bloated vanity project” HS2 would be scrapped in the first 100 days of a Reform government, although the party was not clear whether this referred to the already cancelled phase two or the rest of phase one.

The National Infrastructure Commission and Infrastructure Bank would be reformed and merged into a single funding stream to “cut waste [and] boost funding and accountability”, the manifesto added.

In terms of skills policy, Reform said it would focus on helping unemployed 16-34 year-olds back to work, partly through tax relief for businesses that undertake apprenticeships.

Among its other policies, a Reform government would introduce SME-friendly measures, such as:

  • Lowering fuel duty by 20 pence.
  • Abolishing IR35 rules for contractors.
  • Lifting the minimum taxable profit threshold to £100,000.
  • Cutting corporation tax from 25 to 20 per cent.
  • Creating “SME Enterprise Zones”.

The manifesto also signalled an attack on existing employment law, to “make it easier to hire and fire so that businesses can grow”.

Reform is rising in the opinion polls ahead of the 4 July general election. Last week, Farage declared himself the “real leader of the opposition” to a potential Labour government, after an outlier YouGov poll showed the party with 19 per cent support, ahead of the Conservatives at 18 per cent.

Industry reaction

Construction organisations and analysts in the built environment sector were sceptical in their reaction to Reform’s manifesto.

National Federation of Builders head of policy and market insight Rico Wojtulewicz said: “On the surface, there are sensible suggestions. However, some of the policies put forward follow the old, failed, politically expedient approaches” – such as prioritising brownfield development.

Carl Emerson, deputy director at London-based thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said: “The sums in this manifesto do not add up.”

He added: “Regardless of the pros and cons of shrinking the state, or of any of their specific measures, the package as a whole is problematic. Spending reductions would save less than stated, and the tax cuts would cost more than stated, by a margin of tens of billions of pounds per year.”

Colin Brown, head of planning and development at consultancy Carter Jonas, said that Reform’s aim to shake up the planning system was interesting but “there is no clarification as to what this might look like in practice”.

“Reform’s contract is far shorter than other manifestos and contains a lot less detail,” he added. “One senses it’s a rather rushed piece of work and Reform has other priorities which perhaps trump planning and housing.”

Farage’s comments earlier in the campaign that the UK construction sector did not require migrant labour because builders are “unskilled” generated industry condemnation.

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