UK must "get on with it" when it comes to national infrastructure strategy

By Dan Senior on Unsplash

Modern, reliable infrastructure can support economic growth, support the drive towards net zero and provide a boost to nature and biodiversity.

That’s the message in the second national infrastructure assessment from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), which sets the agenda for action over the next 30 years and will see the Government issue a formal response to the assessment within 12 months.

The NIC, the Government's independent advisers on infrastructure strategy, say improved infrastructure to boost economic growth across the UK and meet climate goals is both achievable and affordable - if the right policy steps are taken now.

In its latest five yearly review, the NIC has set out a programme of transformation for the country’s energy, transport and other key networks over the next 30 years – and stressed the need to “get on with it”.

Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “The good news is that modern, reliable infrastructure can support economic growth, help tackle climate change and enhance the natural environment. 

“We stand at a pivotal moment in time, with the opportunity to make a major difference to this country’s future. But we need to get on with it. 

“People often talk about infrastructure as the backbone of our economy: what our infrastructure needs now is the collective mettle to turn commitments into action that will reap rewards for decades to come.”

The NIC’s recommendations include backing electrification as the only viable option for decarbonising buildings at scale, to reduce reliance on volatile fossil fuels, lower energy bills over the long term and to meet the UK’s climate targets.

It also advises government fully subsidises the costs of installing a heat pump for one third of households – based on income – and offers £7,000 support to all others to switch to a heat pump or heat network.


Other recommendations in the review include adding low carbon, flexible technologies to the electricity system to ensure a highly renewable energy system remains reliable, and creating a new strategic energy reserve to boost Great Britain’s energy security.


Major public transport upgrades in England’s most congested cities are also recommended, to unlock economic growth.


Following on from the Prime Minister’s decision to scrap the Northern leg of HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester, the NIC is also calling for an urgent and comprehensive review of rail priorities for the North and the Midlands.


The commission has called for investment of £22bn in mass transit schemes in the cities outside London with the greatest likely need for increased passenger demand, beginning with Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester and their city regions. 

Better maintenance of existing roads and targeted enhancements to speed up journeys on underperforming parts of the national road network are also recommended, alongside building additional water supply infrastructure and reducing leakage, while introducing compulsory water metering as part of efforts to reduce water demand.


The NIC also states reforms to meet a 65% recycling target by 2035 should be urgently implemented and energy from waste plants that do not include carbon capture facilities should be phased out.


The Commission calculates that government’s commitment to a sharp increase in public sector investment in infrastructure to around £30bn per year will need to be sustained until 2040. 

Meanwhile, private sector investment will need to increase from around £30-40bn over the last decade to £40--50bn in the 2030s and 2040s.

The NIC said policy stability, pro-investment regulation and speeding up the planning system for major projects ere also priorities, in order to attract investment to the UK in the face of global competition.

Read the full report

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