Heathrow is the “acid test” for government as Adonis weighs in on industrial strategy

The former chair of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) Lord Adonis has pinpointed decisions on Heathrow expansion, HS2, green and nuclear energy and the expanded rollout of broadband as the areas that will define the success of this government’s infrastructure investments.

Adonis was making the comments as he appeared before the business select committee to answer questions on how he assessed the impact of the NIC and the effectiveness of the government’s industrial strategy.

The former Labour transport secretary resigned from his position as NIC chair in December after accusing the government of “having no credible plan for the future of British trade and European co-operation”, while having a public spat with the current transport secretary Chris Grayling over the Stagecoach/East Coach rail franchise failure.

While giving evidence, Adonis claimed Heathrow expansion was the “single most important issue” for the country following the Brexit vote and a third runway would ensure the UK is not split off from the rest and continued to attract inward investment.

When asked on how effective he believed the commission had been, the former NIC chair said it remained to be seen and that making a decision on the expansion of Heathrow in 2018 would be the “acid test” for the government’s commitment to investment.

Adonis argued that there was “more than one political reality” when it came to overcoming political struggles and pointed to the fact that a number of west London MPs supported the scheme for jobs. He also noted that these MPs had acted to stop the possibility of Heathrow closing for a Thames Estuary Airport. He remained adamant there was a majority in favour of Heathrow and the challenge was how this could make itself felt in the face of vocal local opposition.

The former infrastructure tsar was also quizzed on a range of areas the NIC had highlighted as priorities that needed urgent attention when it came to bringing the country forward in terms of infrastructure. 

One of these was broadband and connectivity. Last year, Adonis wrote to Ofcom urging them to work urgently with government to find some immediate solutions to poor broadband and mobile services which were holding back the general public. He continued to be critical of the regulator and the limited role it had played in improving services. 

“Ofcom has not been tough enough on the private sector,” Adonis said. “The job of a regulator is to make clear what the public interest is. What is the investment strategy of the regulators? Ofcom has spent 20 years worrying about prices and has not spent nearly enough time on the investment in services needed.”

The Labour peer also believed that more long-term thinking was needed by the government and its advisors when it came to the nuclear and green energy sectors. He suggested that those making decisions were not planning with an eye to the future and questioned whether the government could say how many nuclear power stations would be built during the next decade.

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