National Infrastructure Assessment will be “ground-breaking”

In a few weeks time the National Infrastructure Commission will publish its first National Infrastructure Assessment.

"It will be truly ground-breaking, offering an analysis of the UK's long-term needs, assessing national policy and looking across several key sectors," promised commission chair, Sir John Armitt.

Delivering the keynote address to today's Transport Times UK Infrastructure Summit Sir John recalled his predecessor Lord Adonis's view of the NIC's mission: "to inject vision and purpose into how we plan, fund, deliver and operate the networks which underpin our economy and society". He also revealed the finalists in the commission's "Roads for the Future" challenge.

The assessment will span the next 30 years, setting out how the UK should meet identified needs in energy, water and sewerage, flood risk, and digital communications as well as transport.

The Commission has previously highlighted 12 major priorities, of which five are transport focused, where there is a commitment to them in principle from the Government, but where there is a risk that the projects could stall or collapse "without timely decisions".
He added that good progress was being made on many of these and he welcomed the recent announcement that that the Silvertown tunnel would go ahead.

HS2 remained on track, and progress was being made by Transport for the North on developing its strategic transport plan. "It is important that the Government sticks to the agreed timetable for upgrading the Trans-Pennine route and reaches agreement, ideally before the end of this year, on a timetable and funding envelope for the Northern Powerhouse Rail network," Sir John added.

In the south, he called on the government to ensure that the independent review of the funding and financing of Crossrail 2 was completed as soon as possible, with the aim of setting a firm timetable and funding proposal by the end of this year, paving the way for consultation leading to a hybrid bill later in this parliament.

He added "It has taken for too long to reach a decision on a third runway at Heathrow," – 13 years since a statement of government policy in favour of expansion, and three years since the Airports Commission report. "We must make progress on this crucial project," he said.

On the ground there was a need to ease congestion on roads and embrace zero emission and driverless vehicles.

He stressed the need to be "radical in our thinking" and said: "Our ambition should be for driverless public transport rather than purely for driverless private cars and vans. When done well, people are more willing to get out of their cars and make greater use of public transport."

He announced the winners of the Roads for the Future competition, set up by the commission with Highways England and Innovate UK, which sought ideas to address issues such as how the UK's roads would need to change to maximise the benefits of connected and autonomous vehicles.

More than 80 entries were received and the five finalists were:

  • AECOM, with a proposal to examine how smart signals could alert drivers to the speed they should drive at to arrive at the next traffic lights as they turn green;
  • Arup, which will look at how kerbsides with fixed features such as double yellow lines, parking bays and bus stops could become more flexible, changing their use according to the time of day and demand.
  • City Science will focus on how sections of existing roads could be dedicated to driverless cars, and the implications for the urban high streets and motorways, and how road design and rules of the road should be updated so driverless cars and those with drivers can co-exist.
  • Immense will look at how artificial intelligence can be used to help satnav systems "learn" better routes, allowing cars to change course and avoid congestion.
  • And Leeds City Council will examine how data generated from digitally connected cars could be used to improve traffic lights systems and allow better traffic management.

Each will receive £30,000 to develop these ideas further over the next three months, with a £50,000 prize for the overall winner.