Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission Sir John Armitt today said the UK needed to build a shared vision for infrastructure’s role in the economy – one that could unite people, mend fractures in society and build a true sense of community for millions of people.
Speaking to an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure panel discussion on what should be in the National Infrastructure Strategy, Sir John said there was an urgent need for Britain to shape a new national and global identity based on optimism and confidence, with infrastructure at its heart. “We need to set a clear direction for what sort of country we need to be. To make a realistic assessment of what we need to do to build a prosperous economy and inclusive society,” he said.
Sir John insisted that major infrastructure projects could be a unifying force for the United Kingdom, but warned of the dangers of decisions being “swayed by the gusts and eddies of political uncertainty” in Westminster politics.
He said, “Short term considerations will always rear their head. Today taking priority over tomorrow, and the urgent always shouting the loudest. We must ensure the rational, considered, researched view is heard.”
Sir John cited HS2 as a project with the potential to reduce the North-South divide and provide real growth opportunities for the northern cities – especially if combined with a commitment to the Northern Powerhouse Rail strategy.
Last summer, the Commission published the UK’s first National Infrastructure Assessment, setting out the steps the government needed to take to secure the best infrastructure for the UK from 2020 to 2050.
Sir John challenged the government to ensure that its National Infrastructure Strategy, due to be announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer this autumn, was sufficiently ambitious and robust to ensure that the right infrastructure is built to support a “secure national future” for the UK.
“Our National Infrastructure Assessment is crucial. It has never been more important to join together and plan for our long term economic future. We hope that Ministers will respond directly and positively to the creative vision it sets out and avoid the temptation to rethink its recommendations, or worst of all, offer only warm words.
“The government’s Strategy must send a clear signal that it serious about giving the UK the world-class infrastructure the economy will need up to 2050.”
“They cannot simply fudge it, or just provide a list of what the government’s already doing. With the government’s strategy just months away, now is the time to make your voices heard.”
He confirmed that the Commission would write to the Chancellor setting out the tests which it believes the National Infrastructure Strategy must meet to be credible, and urged the government to be bold in its approach.
That approach should include committing to devolved funding and powers over local transport to city leaders to help them develop integrated strategies for transport, employment and housing, he said, as well as supporting a truly national, visible charging network for electric vehicles to achieve the target of all new car van sales being electric by 2030.
Sir John’s speech highlighted progress made on recommendations set out by the Commission in the UK’s first National Infrastructure Assessment and the areas where more work was needed, including on:
- Low carbon economy – The Assessment set out bold, clear and achievable targets for moving to 50 per cent of UK electricity coming from renewables by 2030. Sir John warned that while the recent Offshore Wind Sector Deal was a positive step forward, not least in securing the UK’s position as world leader in renewables technology, there needed to be a change of government mindset and a similar momentum built up around onshore wind and solar power, to ensure the rich mix of energy sources the UK economy will need.
- Cities and urban transport – The Commission recommended an additional £43bn of funding and new devolved powers for city leaders and Metro Mayors, to give cities the capacity to make long- term plans to improve local transport and boost productivity and growth. If reflected in the government’s response to our report, Sir John said this would “truly represent a major shift in thinking”.
- Digital connectivity – The UK should commit to delivering full fibre broadband to all homes and businesses by 2033. Sir John said: “Whilst the private sector should deliver much of this, the government needs to set a deadline and support investment, especially in places such as rural communities.”
- The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI) panel discussion titled ‘What should be in the National Infrastructure Strategy’ took place on 1 May 2019 at the Institution for Civil Engineers in London
- Speaking alongside Sir John Armitt on the panel were Vicky Ford MP, the new Chair of the APPGI; Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester; Mark Reynolds, Chief Executive, Mace Group; Dustin Benton, Policy Director, Green Alliance; Lucy Howard, Director, Turner & Townsend
- The National Infrastructure Strategy will provide the government’s formal response to the UK’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment, and is expected to be published alongside the Spending Review in the autumn
- The full text of Sir John’s speech is available here