Tackle ‘three Cs’ or failing infrastructure will hold the country back, says Adonis

The UK faces increasing gridlock on the roads, railways and in the skies, slower mobile and broadband connections and ever-worsening air quality unless the government tackles the ‘three Cs’ of congestion, capacity and carbon, infrastructure chief Lord Adonis has warned.

Speaking at the launch of the National Infrastructure Assessment, the chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission said that the current state of the country’s infrastructure could hold the UK back and that a long-term plan is needed to ensure that it is fit for the future.

He especially pressed the need to address “perhaps the most serious infrastructure failure of all” and reach a firm decision on expanding Heathrow Airport - an issue yet to be fully resolved 13 years after the initial statement of policy for a third runway.

He also warned that the UK risks falling behind other countries in its next generation mobile and broadband connections unless urgent action is taken to increase capacity now and for the future.

Adonis also backed calls from local leaders to tackle air quality, particularly in cities, especially by building the smart charging infrastructure needed for the latest electric vehicles, which will help to reduce harmful carbon emissions.

He highlighted the current state of congestion and capacity shortages:

  • The UK lags behind countries including the USA, the Netherlands and Japan for 4G and broadband speeds
  • Between 2012 and 2015, speeds on inner London roads fell by nine per cent
  • Overcrowding on rail services during peak times in London increased by 45 per cent between 2011 and 2016
  • Over 60% of the UK’s power stations will need to be replaced to meet carbon targets

Lord Adonis said that the government must tackle the ‘three Cs’:

  • Congestion – as well as making progress on Heathrow, investing in projects including HS3 and Crossrail 2 but also in new and improved public transport and cycling services within cities; 
  • Capacity – as well as ensuring everyone has access to the latest digital communications technology, building new infrastructure to support new homes and having sufficient water supply and flood protection to manage extremes of weather; and
  • Carbon – as well as getting ready for electric vehicles, facing up to the challenge of removing carbon emissions from heating and waste, and taking advantage of the falling costs of renewables in electricity generation

But Adonis also warned that this is not just a job for Whitehall. Speaking at the launch of the National Infrastructure assessment alongside five of the country’s seven mayors, he urged local leaders to develop their own plans for infrastructure to meet the needs of their communities.

Lord Adonis said: “We have a proud history in this country of delivering world-class infrastructure, but for years funding has been squeezed, policy decisions have been erratic and the network is showing signs of age and strain. The endless delay to a parliamentary decision on Heathrow is a case in point – and perhaps the most serious infrastructure failure of all. If we are to make the most of our economic potential and compete globally, we need the ‘Heathrow is full’ sign to come down.

“But we also risk falling behind internationally if we don’t improve our mobile and broadband connections, and residents of our great cities will suffer unless we do something to improve air quality. We cannot afford to sit on our hands. Ministers must act now to tackle the ‘three Cs’ of congestion, capacity and carbon if we are to have infrastructure fit for the future, supporting economic growth across the country.

“But this doesn’t just rest with Whitehall and Westminster, and I’m pleased that the country’s mayors are also stepping up to plan to meet the infrastructure needs of their communities.”

Speaking in Birmingham last week, the chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission was joined by five of the country’s seven mayors – from the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, London, Cambridge and Peterborough and the West of England.

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said: “We recognise the importance of infrastructure here in the West Midlands and are working to maximise the opportunities HS2 brings. In our first devolution deal, we negotiated more than £6bn to invest in connectivity to HS2 and this has driven our work to drive a public transport revolution in our region. We have plans for new tram routes, reopening disused rail lines and stations and supercharging investment in cycling and walking. Clearly we need support from national government to deliver all of our plans, while ensuring we do everything necessary to make our region greener.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “People in the North of England have been promised a Northern Powerhouse and now the government needs to commit the investment that will make it a reality. People up here have put up with second class rail for far too long whilst our motorways and roads are gridlocked. Today’s assessment from the National Infrastructure Commission underlines the clear need to invest in our cities. Only by investing in our transport and other infrastructure will the great cities of the North will be able to realise their full economic potential.”

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough James Palmer said: “There is a clear need for us rethink the way we go about delivering transport infrastructure in this country. The timescales involved are too long and the processes too cumbersome. Brexit magnifies the importance of us stepping up to the challenge. I hope that the new National Infrastructure Assessment can play a significant role in challenging conventional thinking and comes up with bold solutions for tackling the infrastructure challenge across the country.”

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