Will the National Infrastructure Commission unlock our potential?

Neil Humphrey, COO Waterman infrastructure and environment

The National Infrastructure Commission to be headed by Labour peer Lord Adonis has its work cut out, says Waterman’s Neil Humphrey.

On the face of it, the National Infrastructure Pipeline issued in July makes for some impressive reading. The pipeline is currently valued at £411bn, covering projects in energy, transport, flood defence, communications and water, with average spending expected to be around £48bn per year over the next five years.

Over 60% of the pipeline is funded by the private sector, with 90% of the total covered by only two sectors (transport and energy). With the planned pooling of 89 local authority pension funds in England and Wales into six regional funds, and the dissolved spending power being given to local authorities through the retention of business rates, it is hoped that this will also encourage local authorities to invest in infrastructure projects. All very impressive stuff.

"London’s population is expected to reach 10M by 2030, and 11M by 2050. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Hungary, or the Czech Republic!"

But the NIC’s challenge will be to ensure that we are investing enough in our infrastructure and that the investment is being directed as effectively and as efficiently as possible.

One of our biggest issues has been that nationally important strategic infrastructure is kicked around like a political hot potato. An example of this is the on-going argument about the results of the Davies Commission on additional runway capacity in the southeast.

While it is understandable that the Mayor of London and Greater London Authority are unhappy with the conclusions reached, it is not helpful that after over two years of research, political bodies will seek to undermine the work of an independent commission because they are not happy with its conclusions, when it was appointed for that very reason – to independently assess all information subjectively in the hope of determining the best outcome for all.

The news that the NIC will initially focus on London and its transportation linkages is therefore very welcome, as London is at a critical turning point. Its position as a global power is being placed at risk by uncertainty over the UK’s role in Europe, and its creaking infrastructure.

London is responsible for almost 25% of the UK’s GDP, and a recent report highlighted that by 2035, the city is projected to generate a tax revenue surplus of £159bn per year1! However, anyone who commutes into the capital knows the capacity constraints within which the current rail network is operating, with significant bottlenecks at Waterloo, Euston and Liverpool Street, and will understand how costly disruption can be to business.

Providing London with the necessary headroom to fulfil its growth potential is critical to securing the UK’s continued prominence on the global stage. London’s population is expected to reach 10M by 2030, and 11M by 2050. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Hungary, or the Czech Republic!

"A clear commitment to Crossrail 2 is  needed now"

Yes, investment is on-going, with works progressing on Crossrail 1, Thameslink and the Tube upgrades, but these investments will only temporarily relieve existing congestion. With population growth and hopefully additional airport capacity, further investment is needed and quickly.

Crossrail 2 will be a critical component of this investment. The proposed 36km twin bore underground rail route between Wimbledon, Tottenham Hale and New Southgate will provide greater connectivity across London, increasing the capacity of the network by 10% and unlocking development potential for up to 200,000 homes in areas such as the Upper Lea Valley.

A clear commitment to the project is therefore needed now, in order for it to be planned and designed, ready for construction to start in the early 2020s. At a cost of c£27bn, this is no light undertaking, and it’s a tortuous process.

In July, the Mayor announced the creation of the Crossrail 2 Growth Commission, and a public consultation will begin shortly to provide more information on the project, including locations for work sites and station entrances.

Time will only tell whether the NIC will be able to step above the political point scoring, and start to develop a more streamlined decision-making process that will unlock our infrastructure potential and help the UK to retain its global position. But time is a luxury we may not have!  

Neil Humphrey is chief operating officer, Waterman Infrastructure & Environment


The airport commission answered the second question, as to where an extra runway would be sited if required. The first question, as to whether another runway is needed, was unanswered. My study of the Department of Transport's aviation statistics, which Infrastructure Intelligence published shows that it is not needed and that there is ample runway capacity in the UK.