Lib Dems promise rail investment, accept nuclear power but don't want a third runway

Major investment in rail including HS2 and acceptance of nuclear power provided safety concerns can be allayed were key policies in the Liberal Democrat manifesto launched on Thursday. But the party was still opposed to a new runway for the south east because of noise and air quality concerns, though it promised to “listen carefully” to the conclusions from the Airports Commission.

Lib Dems manifesto

Launching the manifesto party leader Nick Clegg said that no party would hold an outright majority after the General Election and the Lib Dems would  "add a heart to a Conservative government and add a brain to a Labour one" by preventing excessive spending cuts or borrowing.

 “Liberal Democrats are leading the renewal of Britain’s ageing infrastructure but we still have decades of under-investment to catch up on. We need better transport infrastructure, a modern railway system, and less congestion on our roads,” the manifesto said.

The party promised a 10 year rolling capital investment programme in infrastructure largely focused on rail – with no mention of specific road spending. The plans promised to

  • Develop a comprehensive plan to electrify the overwhelming majority of the UK rail network, reopen smaller stations, restore twin-track lines to major routes and proceed with HS2, as the first stage of a high-speed rail network to Scotland
  • Deliver improved Transport for the North 
  • Develop more modern, resilient links to and within the South West peninsula
  • Complete East-West rail, connecting up Oxford and Cambridge to kick start five new garden cities – of 10 promised as part of the intention to build 300,000 new homes.
  • Ensure London’s transport infrastructure is improved to withstand the pressure of population and economic growth.
  • Work to encourage further private sector investment in rail freight terminals and rail-connected distribution parks with a clear objective to shift more freight from road to rail. Planning laws would be changed to ensure new developments provide good freight access to retail, manufacturing and warehouse facilities.
  • Ensure airport infrastructure meets the needs of a modern and open economy, without allowing emissions from aviation to undermine the party’s goal of a zero-carbon Britain by 2050. The manifesto said: “We will carefully consider the conclusions of the Davies Review into runway capacity and develop a strategic airports policy for the whole of the UK in the light of those recommendations and advice from the Committee on Climate Change”.  But it went on “we remain opposed to any expansion of Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick and any new airport in the Thames Estuary, because of local issues of air and noise pollution. We will ensure no net increase in runways across the UK.”
  • Encourage councils to consider building trams and there would be support for a new generation of light rail and ultra-light rail schemes in towns and cities where local people want them.


Low Carbon

The Lib Dems placed great emphasis on low carbon in the manifesto promising to expand the green investment bank and set legally binding decarbonisation targets for electricity production along with a focus on offshore wind power and low carbon vehicles to drive economic growth.

They promised:

  • A Zero Carbon Britain Act to set a new legally binding target to bring net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.
  • To realise the full potential of the Green Investment Bank by increasing its capitalisation, expanding its remit, allowing it to raise funds independently and enabling it to issue green bonds.
  • Increase research and development and commercialisation support in four key low-carbon technologies where Britain could lead the world: tidal power, carbon capture and storage, energy storage and ultra-low emission vehicles.
  • To set a legally binding decarbonisation target range for 2030 for the power sector of 50–100g of CO2 per kWh, “which can largely be achieved by expansion of renewables, with an indicative target of 60% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030”.
  • Accept that new nuclear power stations can play a role in low-carbon electricity supply provided concerns about safety, disposal of waste and cost are adequately addressed and without public subsidy for new build.

They also pledged to establish a senior Cabinet Committee to coordinate action and bringing together officials in inter-departmental units on issues like air quality and resource management replicating the success of the Office for Budget Responsibility with an Office for Environmental Responsibility scrutinising the government’s efforts to meet its environmental targets.

Pledges on climate resilience investment and air quality controls were also included.

Commenting on the Lib Dems manisfesto Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) director general, Nick Baveystock welcomed the clear connection made in the document between supporting infrastructure and growing a high skill, low carbon economy and highlighted that the Lib Dems "grasp the gravity of the UK’s energy situation - with some welcome ambitious decarbonisation targets - and the need to build our resilience".

“However, we would like to see plans for a longer term, overarching vision for UK infrastructure, and a mechanism that stands the vision above political meddling - this is something that must be tackled regardless of the outcome on 7 May," he added. "The delay and indecision on how to resolve the UK’s aviation hub capacity demonstrates why this is so important. We urge swift and bold action on the Davies Commission recommendations - paving the way for delivery and avoiding yet more uncertainty.”


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