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England’s city leaders urged to make most of local infrastructure funding

Devolved infrastructure funding could mean more local projects like the West Midlands Metro extension.

Proposed new powers and devolved infrastructure funding could transform efforts by cities in England to tackle congestion and housing shortages, but city leaders need to grasp the opportunities presented by this agenda and clearly show the benefits it could bring, National Infrastructure Commission chair, Sir John Armitt, said today.

At an event held in Birmingham with local government officials, Armitt said proposals to give new powers and funding to city leaders – set out in the UK’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment – could be “the biggest step forward in devolution since the establishment of metro mayors.” 

However, to make the most of them and demonstrate their benefits, England’s cities need to step up to the plate and demonstrate their readiness to take on these new powers. Ahead of the spending review and the government’s National Infrastructure Strategy, Armitt urged mayors and city leaders to deliver an unambiguous message of support for the principle of devolved funding and demonstrate their readiness to take on the new responsibilities the commission proposed.

“England’s cities are crucial dynamos for future economic growth, but we know that for many, growth can lead to congestion and housing shortages,” said Armitt. “Without proper infrastructure planning and funding, cities face gridlock and new residents are priced out of increasingly unaffordable homes. Devolution has allowed cities like Birmingham and Manchester to create bold visions for local transport and properly plan for long-term growth. The time is right for all of England’s cities and city regions to also have that opportunity, through greater control over infrastructure planning. 

“Our Assessment set out an ambitious but achievable solution for how to do that, but it won’t happen without concerted support. That’s why I’m calling on England’s city leaders to make the case for putting this potentially transformational change at the heart of the government’s spending review,” he said.

The commission’s event in Birmingham is the first knowledge sharing event as part of the ‘Next steps for cities’ programme to help cities across England learn from each other as they prepare long-term plans for infrastructure. The programme is designed to help cities across the country get ready to develop serious and credible infrastructure strategies, given the right powers and funding.

Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands, said: “The West Midlands is leading the way with its game changing local industrial strategy, and supporting infrastructure plans. We are delivering the UK’s first 5G test bed; continuing world leading testing and real-world deployment of automotive and connected vehicle technology and building a new and expanded metro system – connecting people with new housing and job opportunities. 

“We urge the government to continue to back cities with further devolved powers and resources, as set out by the National Infrastructure Commission. We will be making the devolution of long-term transport and infrastructure funding central to our asks of government at the spending review.”

Five cities and city regions – West Yorkshire, Liverpool city region, Derby, Exeter and Basildon – have also been selected as case study cities, working closely with the commission and leading experts, including the Centre for Cities. 

These case studies will help the commission understand the process of developing an infrastructure strategy better through first-hand experience, while also helping cities learn directly from other cities that have already developed joined up strategies.

The UK’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment identified that a lack of power and insufficient funding in cities has resulted in congestion and housing shortages. To overcome this, the commission recommended that government should:

  • provide £43bn of additional investment in cities outside London by 2040
  • enable long-term devolved budgets for all cities
  • support major new transport projects in the fastest growing and most congested cities outside of London.