Crossrail 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail progress is "hugely disappointing", says NIC

The government has been told that it risks stalling any potential post-Brexit growth if it fails to address progress on major projects designed to improve connectivity in the UK.

The first annual monitoring report published by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has criticised the progress being made on several infrastructure projects promoted by the government which include Crossrail 2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and Heathrow expansion. 

Last year, the NIC made several key recommendations and identified 12 more immediate infrastructure priorities on which action was required. The report reviews the government’s progress on the recommendations and the 12 priorities it identified.

The commission’s chairman Sir John Armitt, who replaced Lord Adonis last month, said that any further delay on decisions relating to the rail projects or Heathrow expansion would be “irreconcilable with the government’s commitment to deliver the infrastructure the country needs.” A parliamentary vote on the expansion of Heathrow has to take place no later than this summer, according to the chair.

He added: “Alongside progress, there is a disappointing lack of pace in several areas. Much greater urgency is needed in tackling the poor quality of mobile phone signal coverage on the UK’s major roads and railways lines. It is hugely disappointing that nearly two years after the commission’s reports on Crossrail 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, the government still has not firmly committed to a timetable for funding or got a clear plan for delivering either of these nationally significant projects.”

The government’s infrastructure advisor has reiterated the need for “significant investment” to ensure businesses, communities and families are reassured that there is resolve to deliver the complex projects in energy, water, digital infrastructure, transport which the UK will need to 2050. 

In contrast to its criticisms, the NIC has moved to applaud the progress made on delivering “smart" electricity networks. The report welcomed the joint work by the government and Ofgem to help the UK become a world leader in electricity storage and secure the cost-effective, low-carbon generation the country needs.

Armitt said: “There has been progress in implementing our recommendations from our Connected Future report, with the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport significantly increasing its digital capability and Ofcom reviewing and improving its measurements of mobile coverage. The significant funding at the budget to transform housing and transport in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford growth corridor – and the appointment of a champion – will give hope to businesses and families in the area facing high house prices and poor transport connections.”

However, the report also points how a “marked improvement” to the UK’s transport and energy systems, digital capabilities and mobile coverage is needed to ensure economic success is achieved.

Nelson Ogunshakin, chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering, said that the government needed to focus on working with the industry to deliver the key infrastructure projects the country needs: “The NIC is right to voice its concerns about the lack of progress being made in delivering the vital infrastructure that the UK needs to boost economic prosperity. There is much to do and the industry stands ready to work with government to fast-track these projects and we need to see more collaboration and cooperation to make that happen.”

Commenting on the report, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) Alasdair Reisner said: “Infrastructure in the UK has for too long suffered from a lack of long-term strategy and delays to nationally-significant projects. The government’s failure to commit to a range of projects, such as the third runway at Heathrow, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, Crossrail 2, and Northern Powerhouse Rail, is holding back the potential of the UK economy. CECA calls on the government to commit to projects outlined in the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan. Moreover, it must to work to develop projects to add to this pipeline, which will create jobs and secure future economic growth.”

Click here to view the NIC’s report.

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