Government urged to get back to work on infrastructure

Andrew Adonis, as chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, has teamed up with business leaders to press government on the urgency of key infrastructure projects, publishing a list of 12 top priorities. In a post-election speech at the Institution of Civil Engineers today, Adonis said: “Brexit and the hung parliament must not lead to dither and delay on the key infrastructure challenges facing the country.  We need to press on with decisions on Heathrow, HS2, new electricity generating capacity, and radical improvements to digital communications, to underpin jobs and economic growth.

“Rapid progress in the next year on these top 12 major projects and priorities is an acid test of the government’s commitment to the ‘jobs first Brexit’ which the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, argued for last week. All of these have been agreed in principle, but require decisive action to get them moving in the new Parliament.  They ought to be at the top of ministers’ in-trays, and they ought not to linger there a day more than necessary.”

Adonis' list of priorities has the backing of the Confederation of British Industry, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses. In a statement released with the priority list, Adonis said:

“Britain’s historic weakness has been to underinvest in infrastructure, and to adopt a stop-go approach even where decisions are taken in principle.  Nothing symbolises this more than the long-running saga of Heathrow airport.  A third runway was agreed in principle 14 years ago but there has still not been a firm decision to proceed.

“There’s no point saying Britain is open to the world if business cannot get in because Heathrow is full.”

Adonis's comments were welcomed by Robbie Owen, head of infrastructure planning and government affairs at Pinsent Masons. “It shows how helpful the NIC is going to be, particularly at a time when we have a minority government with many other priorities and distractions," said Owen. "Despite what was said in the Queen's speech about the government continuing to invest in infrastructure for economic growth, quite what that means in practice beyond HS2 Phase 2, especially in the case of large schemes, is currently unclear.

“What Lord Adonis said is really helpful and provides a much-needed voice from a very senior and experienced person to keep these projects on track at a time when there is a considerable political vacuum. A lot of the projects in the list of 12 have already got government support, but they need continued pushes to get them over the line,” Owen said.

The top 12 priorities for government action

1. Heathrow Airport

Government should complete all preparatory work needed for a Parliamentary decision to be taken on a third runway for Heathrow airport, and progress other aviation policy decisions to boost air traffic capacity, particularly in the south-east of England.  This requires a timetable for agreeing an updated national aviation strategy published no later than September 2017; a government response to the consultation on UK airspace published no later than October 2017; and a House of Commons vote on any finalised National Policy Statement on airports capacity in the south-east of England no later than May 2018.

2. High Speed 2

Government should introduce the hybrid Bill for Phase 2a (Birmingham to Crewe) of High Speed 2 and publish the finalised route for Phase 2b (Crewe to Manchester and Birmingham to Leeds), including connections with High Speed 3, and let the major work contracts for Phase One, by the end of July 2017.

3. High Speed 3 (linking the major northern cities from Liverpool to Newcastle and Hull)

The Government should publish by the end of 2017 a single integrated plan for the first phase of High Speed 3, incorporating proposals for electrifying and upgrading the Trans-Pennine (Manchester to Leeds) rail route, plans for the northern sections of HS2, and plans for the redevelopment of Manchester Piccadilly station, as set out in the NIC’s High Speed North report. 

4. Crossrail 2 (linking north-east, central and south-west London)

The Government should by the end of 2017 publish a plan, agreed with the Mayor of London, for the funding and phased construction of Crossrail 2, and for securing the necessary parliamentary consent, taking account of the recommendations in the NIC’s Transport for a World City report.

5. Eastern crossings of the River Thames

Government should make a decision on planning permission for the Silvertown Tunnel by the end of October 2017; announce its financing strategy for the new Lower Thames Crossing (to relieve the congested M25 Dartford Crossing) and begin the Environmental Impact Assessment process, no later than September 2017, paving the way for consultation on the detailed route in 2018 and the submission of the development consent application in 2019; and agree a policy with the Mayor of London for the next road crossing of the Thames in East London by the end of 2017, to enable substantial new housing development.

6. Flexible power systems

Government should publish its plan for smart energy systems, as set out in its response to the NIC’s Smart Power report, including the actions it will take to enable greater deployment of electricity storage, interconnectors and demand flexibility, no later than September 2017.

7. Renewable energy

Government should publish its firm forward plans for supporting renewable energy, at least to 2025, including the use of the remaining funds from the £730m agreed in the last Parliament, by October 2017, and specific longer-term goals in the Autumn Budget.

8. Decarbonisation of energy

Government should publish its strategy for the decarbonisation of energy, including its emissions reduction plan, no later than October 2017, and set out its trajectory for the future level of the “carbon price floor” in the Autumn Budget.

9. Hinkley Point C

The Government should by the end of the year publish a strategy and timetable for replacing the services provided by the UK’s membership of Euratom to support the timely delivery of the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station and any future nuclear projects.

10. Broadband and mobile

Government should, by the end of 2017, publish its final broadband Universal Service Obligation decision and set out minimum acceptable standards for mobile coverage, based on metrics which genuinely reflect where people live, work and travel. These should be followed within six months by a credible delivery plan, setting out the concrete steps that the Government will take to ensure they are met.

11. 5G mobile

Government and Ofcom should take the following steps by the end of 2017 to implement the recommendations from the NIC’s Connected Future report and prepare for the widespread deployment of 5G technology from 2020: Complete the auction of 5G spectrum in the in the 3.4 – 3.6 GHz range and publish a timetabled plan to complete by the end of 2019 the auctions of other key 5G spectrum bands; set out a comprehensive plan to enable the rollout of 5G services, including proposals for providing access to public sector buildings, land and other assets, and the commercial models for delivering high quality mobile services directly alongside the motorway network and main railway lines.

12. Water and flood defence infrastructure

Government should finalise the Strategic Policy Statement for Ofwat by the end of September 2017 and publish its review setting out proposals for the effective management of surface water flooding by the end of 2017.