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27.06.17

Three rail schemes featured in NIC ‘top 12’ infrastructure priorities

Three critical railway projects have been listed in the top four infrastructure priorities the government must focus on within the next year, with rapid progress on these said to be an “acid test” of Whitehall’s commitment to a so-called ‘jobs first Brexit’.

In a speech at the Institution of Civil Engineers, Lord Adonis, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), named HS2, HS3 and Crossrail 2 as part of the top four infrastructure priorities in a list of 12 priorities overall, with rail falling only behind Heathrow’s third runway in the race for the top spot.

He argued ministers must make rapid progress on these projects in the next year in order to overturn Britain’s “historic weakness” to underinvest in critical infrastructure and to adopt a “stop:go approach even where decisions are taken in principle”.

“Brexit and the hung parliament must not lead to dither and delay on the key infrastructure challenges facing the country,” he emphasised in his speech. “We need to press on with decisions on Heathrow, HS2 to the north of England, 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.”

While all of the projects in his top 12 list have already been agreed in principle, Lord Adonis stressed that they all require “decisive action” in order 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,” he added.

HS2, listed as the second priority overall, needs to introduce a phase 2a hybrid bill and a finalised route for phase 2b (including connections with HS3), as well as to let its major work contracts, by the end of July this year; HS3 needs to publish a single integrated plan for its first phase by the end of 2017, incorporating Trans-Pennine electrification proposals, plans for the northern section of HS2 and the redevelopment of Manchester Piccadilly; and Crossrail 2 needs to release a plan for its funding and phased construction by the end of the year.

The NIC’s calls came after London TravelWatch strongly urged central government to press on with “vital” Crossrail 2 plans and just a week after London’s draft transport strategy, published by mayor Sadiq Khan, underscored the importance of the project to the city’s future transport links.

Unsurprisingly, Khan has issued a statement welcoming the “strong backing” Lord Adonis and the NIC gave to Crossrail 2: “The commission is right to highlight its significance to the whole country and the need for us to progress this project quickly.

“Not only is Crossrail 2 essential to keep the south of England moving and avoid dangerous levels of overcrowding, it’s also critical to the future of the UK economy as a whole – creating 200,000 homes and 200,000 new jobs.”

Businesses have also come together to signal support for NIC’s top 12 list, with director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, Adam Marshall, arguing that infrastructure projects “both large and small” can give real confidence to business communities in the UK.

“The best possible Brexit deal won’t be worth the paper it is written on if we don’t have the right infrastructure to support business growth here at home,” said Marshall.

“Successive governments have said a lot on infrastructure, but delivered comparatively little. At a time of transition and change, our physical and digital connectivity, and our energy security, are more important than ever before.”

Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, also highlighted the “truly golden opportunity” the country has to transform the backbone of the UK’s infrastructure to make it the “envy of the world and of our international competitors”.

But this once-in-a-generation moment can only be successful “if words are turned into action, if pens are put down and diggers are started up”, stressed Hardie.

And Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, emphasised what the rail industry’s supply chain has long been saying: SMEs rely on the government not getting “distracted from delivering on infrastructure projects both large and small”.

As well as HS2, HS3 and Crossrail 2, NIC’s top 12 list featured projects such as eastern crossings of the River Thames, more flexible power systems, renewable energy, decarbonisation, Hinkley Point C, broadband, 5G and flood defence, amongst others.

But despite today’s calls, last week’s Queen’s Speech – which only made reference to HS2, omitting all other railway schemes from the government’s Parliamentary plan – left rail bodies concerned and awaiting further clarity.

Comments

Jerry Alderson   27/06/2017 at 18:52

So, East West Rail doesn't make the Adonis top-priority list. I wonder what Rob Brighouse and Phil Verster think of that.

Santa1105   16/07/2017 at 18:59

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