Latest NIC report highlights “slow progress” on government’s infrastructure plans

Achieving net zero targets is being threatened by slow progress on the government's infrastructure plans.

The government is at risk of failing to deliver the aims of its National Infrastructure Strategy unless it picks up the pace with detailed policy design and implementation, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has warned. 

In its latest report, NIC, the UK’s official independent infrastructure advisor, says that clear, long-term goals are now in place across most infrastructure areas and gives credit for increased investment – a £100bn commitment over the next three years, alongside an indication of increased spending in the long term. 

Infrastructure Progress Review 2022, The NIC’s annual review of government progress on infrastructure, also notes that some of the advisory body’s key recommendations have been delivered this year, including the creation of the UK Infrastructure Bank, and that both gigabit broadband coverage and renewable electricity capacity have continued to increase. 

However, the NIC is concerned about slow progress in other areas posing a real threat to achieving key objectives at the heart of the National Infrastructure Strategy. That government document, published in 2020, set out plans for infrastructure to help boost economic growth across all parts of the UK and meet the net zero emissions target by 2050. 

Since that publication, “some of the strategies government has developed over the last year lack detailed delivery policy, leave key gaps, or simply do not go far enough,” says the report. It highlights ten priorities for the year ahead, including the urgent need for a comprehensive energy efficiency push to insulate homes, devolved funding to more councils for local transport schemes, and the need to accelerate the roll out of electric vehicle charging points to ensure the 2030 date for the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars remains viable. 

It assesses recent government activity against five tests - a long term perspective, clear goals and plans to achieve them, firm funding commitments, a genuine commitment to change and action on the ground. 

The NIC highlights the need for a pipeline of mass urban transit schemes beyond the planned development of such a project for West Yorkshire and a rapid shift away from competitive bidding between councils for short term transport funding pots, towards long term devolved funding settlements.  

The commission’s report also flags the need for big decisions on how the net zero transition will be funded. “Ultimately, that will either be taxpayers, consumers, or a combination of both. But ensuring the costs are distributed fairly is critical. Delays to decisions on who pays are now holding up delivering infrastructure, including low carbon heat and energy efficiency. Open and honest conversations, followed by clear decisions, are needed to address this,” the report states.

Writing in the report’s foreword, NIC chair Sir John Armitt says: “At a time of significant global volatility alongside concerns about rising living costs, we appreciate that sticking to a long-term strategy is not easy.  But it is the only way to address the stubbornly difficult problems that will not become any easier or cheaper to solve by delaying action – and the quicker we tackle them, the quicker society and our environment will reap the benefits.”

Stephen Marcos Jones, CEO of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering, said: “The National Infrastructure Commission review shows that more needs to be done if we are to meet society’s ambitious net zero target. It is rightly sounding a warning to government and others that more tangible detail and progress is needed if we are to deliver a carbon neutral economy by 2050.

“We hope that next week’s spring statement will deliver on some of the highlighted projects and programmes – such as a comprehensive energy efficiency push to insulate homes, devolved funding to more councils for local transport schemes, and the need to accelerate the roll out of electric vehicle charging points – not just for the paradigm shifts they deliver, but also for the jobs their roll-out will create. ACE supports the commission’s view that there have been some positive moves to date, notably the creation of the UK Infrastructure Bank and an increase in renewable energy capacity, and it is encouraging to see the industry aligned to society’s ambitions in this space.” 

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association, said: “The National Infrastructure Commission is right to highlight the need for long-term planning and clear funding commitments in rail, both of which are essential in building confidence in the supply sector and allowing it to deliver cost effectively, to time and to budget.

“Whilst the Integrated Rail Plan has offered more certainty to the rail industry, there is still further work to be done. In particular, the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP) – the list of rail upgrades planned over the coming years, including many of the projects in the Integrated Rail Plan – is still yet to be published, almost 900 days since the government promised to. If the rail industry is going to have the clarity of future work the NIC mentions, it is vital the RNEP is published urgently.”

Click here to download the NIC’s Infrastructure Progress Review 2022.

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