Chancellor Philip Hammond’s first (and last) Autumn Statement provided little of direct relevance to the environmental sector, but its range of policy updates and announcements has certainly given the environment and energy industries something to think about, with both positive impacts and opportunities missed.

Infrastructure was one of the key themes, with an extra £1.1bn investment in English local transport announced, targetting pinch points on strategic roads, digital signalling on railways and increased investment in low emission and autonomous vehicles. These are all positive developments, but for the full effect to be felt, it is crucial that the government works on a fast pace of delivery.

Speeding up delivery does not, however, necessarily mean cutting planning and regulatory corners. It can be achieved by accelerating development consent orders and parliamentary bill processes. Early and focused stakeholder consultation that aims to identify common ground would ensure swift identification and resolution of the key issues.

The Autumn Statement’s commitment to housing needs to also involve a commitment to delivering sustainable design, and brownfield sites should be a key focus. By regenerating existing land we not only maximise land use, but can help regenerate the surrounding communities, delivering wider societal benefits alongside housing and more environmentally resilient urban environments.

The link between the delivery of housing and infrastructure provides a unique opportunity to promote positive environmental behaviour. For example designing infrastructure that encourages minimal car ownership will, in turn, help address some of the air quality changes we are facing in the UK. It is also imperative that we incorporate climate change resilience through methods such as natural flood defences, a need highlighted by the recent floods.

The commitment to an extra £2bn annual investment in research and development by 2020/21 is a great step forward. The effect on scientific and technological innovation will not only boost the UK economy, but could potentially bring us closer to meeting our environmental goals. We would like to see a focused strand of investment on decarbonisation and renewable technologies, and a commitment to provide access to these across the national grid.

Energy

For the energy sector there are a number of areas where the Autumn Statement could have been more supportive, particularly regarding renewables and North Sea oil and gas investment.

Confirmation that the Carbon Price Floor freeze will only extend to the end of 2020 creates a good deal of uncertainty. It can take a number of years for developers to get a scheme consented and commissioned, and it is likely to be impeding investment already. The renewables industry is vital to achieving the UK’s transition to a low carbon economy, one of the government’s central energy objectives, so it is imperative that government leads the way in providing effective support. Exemptions for energy intensive industries from environmental tariffs enable competitiveness but should also have created a sound basis to leverage the price floor to the benefit of the low-carbon sector.

The Statement represented a missed opportunity to support the offshore oil and gas industry, with commitments only made to measures that had already been proposed. The industry is experiencing significant difficulties as a consequence of a prolonged low oil price environment and supportive measures would have been welcome to protect this important aspect of the British economy.

Policy on energy and climate change was noticeably light within the Autumn Statement. It should be higher up the government’s agenda or the type of changes that need to be made will not be possible. For example, a lack of clarity on how the government proposes to decarbonise heat only creates further uncertainty – how are they going to deal with this issue and when will the industry know? It is important that the increase in climate finance over the next five years is targeted strategically.