Copper Director Ross Hayman reviews recent announcements in the infrastructure sector and asks what are we to make of them?
Infrastructure has barely been out of the news for the last couple of weeks, with the Chancellor’s Budget speech closely followed by publication of the new National Infrastructure Delivery Plan.
Both events responded to the clamour for new infrastructure with commitments to invest billions of pounds and bring forward exciting, much-needed new schemes around the UK.
To pick just a few, the Budget included £80m to kick-start work on Crossrail 2, the proposed new north-south underground rail line in London, £160m to create four lane carriageways on the M62, £150m for river crossings in Lowestoft and Ipswich, at least £50m for energy innovation “smart power” schemes and £30m to develop manufacturing of small modular nuclear reactors.
The National Infrastructure Delivery Plan, meanwhile, brings together the Government’s plans to support large-scale housing and regeneration with its commitment to invest over £100 billion in infrastructure by 2020-21.
The five-year plan includes the National Infrastructure Pipeline, an eye-watering array of over 600 projects worth £425 billion, and £58 billion of schemes in housing, regeneration, education, health and justice.
Few people doubt George Osborne’s enthusiasm for infrastructure projects, and his campaign to share that excitement and build an appetite for investment in the UK.
Bringing housing and regeneration in with infrastructure projects also helps us all to join the dots and look at economic development in the round – a real big-picture view to help with masterplanning.
But is the enthusiasm really backed by hard cash? And will the Government set the priorities? Or are those still in the hands of the market?
The Chancellor has travelled the world and put in long hours to try to secure funding for the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, but a final investment decision is still to be made.
At the same time, Government policies have led to the shelving of many proposed renewable energy projects, leading to decisions not to proceed with projects to upgrade our electricity networks. Last week National Grid published its Network Options Assessment, which concluded many schemes should be delayed until further notice.
And critics of the Government claim the Northern Powerhouse is more talk than action, pointing to the Budget announcements of £60m to “explore options” for rail improvements between Leeds and Manchester, and £75m to “develop the case” for a Trans-Pennine tunnel, as a lack of commitment to getting things moving.
So what are we to make of it? Well, turning up the volume in the debate on UK infrastructure needs can only be a good thing, as it gets more people involved in the discussion and builds the enthusiasm we need.
Copper recently published a report which examined ‘Attitudes to infrastructure in Great Britain’ and which found that almost 9 out of 10 people in Britain want to see investment in new infrastructure – but many also want more of a say in how it’s planned and delivered.
The spotlight over the next few months will be on the National Infrastructure Commission, which was set up “to transform the way we plan and deliver major infrastructure projects”.
Its leader, Lord Adonis, has made it clear he wants action. But he will need full commitment from the Government as well as industry for the Commission to deliver.