Infrastructure Commission tells government to pull its finger out


The government is failing in areas including insulation, electric cars and local transport, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) says.

The government published its National Infrastructure Strategy in 2020, setting 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. 

The NIC’s Infrastructure Progress Review 2022 assesses the current state of infrastructure policy and delivery in pursuit of stated government aims. It says that gigabit broadband coverage and renewable electricity capacity have continued to increase – and the UK Infrastructure Bank has been set up as promised – but the local transport improvements and the housing retrofit drive to improve the energy efficiency of buildings have not materialised.

Unless the government picks up the pace with detailed policy design and implementation, it is at risk of failing to deliver its aim, the UK’s official independent infrastructure adviser warns.

NIC chair Sir John Armitt writes in the report’s foreword: “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.”

The 2022 Progress Review sets out 10 priorities for the year ahead, including the 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 highlights the need for a pipeline of mass urban transit schemes beyond the planned development in West Yorkshire, and a shift away from competitive bidding between councils for short term transport funding pots, towards long term devolved funding settlements instead.

The commission’s report also flags the need for difficult 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 Review identifies what the government’s infrastructure priorities for 2022 should be:

Digital

Set out an assessment of the country’s future wireless connectivity needs and how mobile networks will need to evolve to meet future demand, articulating the balance between what the market can deliver and where government needs to intervene

Energy

Improve energy efficiency schemes to put the country on track to deliver the government target for as many homes as possible to be EPC C rated or above by 2035

Publish a detailed plan to deliver at least the 5 MtCO2 per year of engineered removals by 2030 ambition in the Net Zero Strategy

Floods

Set out a long term measurable objective for what flood resilience policy in England is trying to achieve

Water

Strengthen and progress plans for reducing per capita water consumption to deliver the targeted 110 litres per person per day by 2050

Waste

Deliver increased recycling rates by finalising policy on key areas such as extended producer responsibility, deposit return schemes, recycling consistency and bans on certain types of plastics

Transport

To achieve tangible improvements in local transport, government must:

  • Move away from competitive bidding for multiple, centrally controlled, short term funding pots and make fast progress towards devolving five year integrated funding settlements for transport spending to local authorities outside the city region combined authorities
  • Support local authorities in developing plans for major urban transport schemes in a number of priority cities, including plans to develop a mass transit system for West Yorkshire

Initiate a step change in the rate of deployment of charge points to get on track to deliver the infrastructure needed to facilitate the 2030 end to new diesel and petrol car and van sales

Regulation     

Building on the publication of the Economic Regulation Paper to complete a review of regulators’ statutory duties

Resilience      

Set out improvements to resilience standards and stress testing in the National Resilience Strategy.

For further details see nic.org.uk

Industry reaction

Stephen Marcos Jones, chief executive of the Association for Consultancy & Engineering, said: “The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) 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.”

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