Whether it’s the testing of driverless cars in Birmingham and Coventry, the establishment of a new Mersey Tidal Power Commission or Manchester’s investment in full-fibre broadband, infrastructure has been a key part of the work of the Metro Mayors in their first year. Their continued commitment to tackling these issues for their regions will be vital for their communities – and as we deliver the country’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment.
I became chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission six months ago, right at the start of a critical year for the organisation. We are close to publishing our first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment, which will make key recommendations for how we deliver the transport, energy and digital networks we need; how we recycle more and waste less, and how we pay for our future infrastructure. It will look ahead to the next three decades, and at how we in the UK can be prepared for the technological advances that could transform how we commute, communicate with friends and colleagues and power our homes.
Our previous studies have covered such issues as the need for a fast Northern Powerhouse rail line and Crossrail 2 in London, the future of the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Growth Arc and the need to tackle the nationwide ‘not spots’ for mobile phone and broadband coverage – in each case, the role of local leaders has been, and will continue to be, a key part of ensuring that the recommendations are backed by action. The National Infrastructure Assessment will be no different.
That’s why I was delighted last week to visit Liverpool, and attend the latest mayors’ summit. It brings together all eight of the country’s Metro Mayors – Ben Houchen from the Tees Valley, Andy Burnham from Greater Manchester, Steve Rotheram for the Liverpool City Region, newly-elected mayor of the Sheffield City Region Dan Jarvis, Andy Street for the West Midlands, James Palmer from Cambridge and Peterborough, Tim Bowles from the West of England, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Of these eight mayors, five attended the launch of Congestion, Capacity, Carbon, which set out the vision and priorities for the Assessment. Our meeting this week demonstrated that far from diminishing, the enthusiasm of all the mayors for this important work has only grown in the months that have followed. Without exception, all are clearly eager to improve existing infrastructure in their regions – but their ability to do so will depend on whether the right structures are in place to support them in developing and implementing their plans.
The significance of cities has been a consistent theme of the Commission’s work – from better intercity links between northern cities to putting in the local transport needed to support new housing, and highlighting the very fast growth expected in cities in every region. It will therefore come as no surprise that it will also be a theme of the National Infrastructure Assessment, especially the stable, long-term funding arrangements that city leaders need to radically improve the transport people rely on to get around their cities.
In all our work our remit is clear: to raise the UK’s competitiveness, improve the quality of life for its residents, and – crucially – to support sustainable economic growth across every region. The analysis behind our work is clearly a key part of that, but so too is the way the Commission engages and works closely with local leaders. As the Metro Mayors start their second year in office, their ongoing focus on infrastructure issues will underline their importance and ensure the recommendations we produce can be translated to real and tangible improvements for their communities.