Themes for transport in the National Infrastructure Assessment

UK Transport Infrastructure Summit: Session 3 

The whole of session three was devoted to the National Infrastructure Commission, which used the opportunity to survey delegates' opinions on three key questions to feed into the forthcoming National Infrastructure Assessment.

NIC commissioner Julia Prescot said the commission was set up to provide the Government with long-term strategic thinking. Its efforts at present were directed towards completing the UK's first National Infrastructure Assessment, to be published this summer.

This will focus on what the UK needs to do to 2050 in order to support sustainable economic growth; improve competitiveness; and improve the quality of life. Its recommendations must fit within a clear fiscal remit from the Treasury, so that there will be a need to prioritise.

In order to hone its ideas it asked the audience's views on three key challenges during the session.

Ms Prescot and colleagues Greg McClymont and Jonathan Hale sought to give delegates a flavour of the commission's thinking. The commission had published an interim document last year, Congestion, Capacity, Carbon, which outlined the themes which would be carried through to the NIA. These were

  • Building a digital society
  • Connected, liveable city-regions
  • Infrastructure to support housing
  • Eliminating carbon emissions from energy and waste
  • A revolution in road transport
  • Reducing the risk of drought and flooding, and
  • Financing and funding infrastructure in efficient ways.

In addition it set out 12 immediate priorities referred to earlier by commission chair Sir John Armitt, including Crossrail 2, Heathrow's third runway, upgrading the Trans-Pennine route and reaching agreement on funding Northern Powerhouse Rail.

In recent years, there had been significant and much needed investment in the UK's transport infrastructure, including the Road Investment Strategy; Crossrail, due to open later this year; Thameslink, adding huge additional capacity; and improvements to large sections of the rail network and the modernisation of stations including Birmingham New Street.

To come was High Speed 2, and the Government had endorsed commission recommendations to develop Crossrail 2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and East-West Rail. The second Road Investment Strategy was expected to continue the pace of improvement set by the first.
But much remained to be done, said Ms Prescot.

Infrastructure constraints were holding back growth more in cities than anywhere else in the country, with increasing populations leading to higher congestion costs and greater demand for housing. "The transport networks in many of our major cities are under severe pressure, and investment has been neglected in recent years," she said.

The creation of metro mayors with new powers over land use and transport planning was a good start, but they had not yet been provided with all the tools they needed, and in particular with sources of stable, long-term funding. "They have been put in place to do an important job and they need more funding certainty and autonomy to do the job properly," she said.

Electric, connected and autonomous vehicles will revolutionise road travel, but there is "some way to go" to create a national integrated EV charging network, and there is no integrated plan at present to manage the impact of electric vehicles on the whole electricity network.

"A more concerted effort is needed to focus research on key knowledge gaps before the next round of periodic spending reviews in the early part of the next decade," she said.

Greg McClymont, commission lead on cities and transport, said that in recent years the Government had made strong progress on getting structures in place, such as the five-year funding plans for rail and the Road Investment Strategy, as far as national networks were concerned.
"The equivalent is not there for cities," he said. "City leaders have to negotiate with the government or bid for funding. So we will be looking at how investment in cities can be afforded and how much they are likely to have."

The commission wanted to make sure that the strategies that metro mayors bring forward "have proper connections with housing, rather than considering them as two separate things."

He said the commission would not go into detail about what projects were right for a particular city: "we're more interested in structures to take ideas forward" and that strategies are "realistic and deliverable".

Jonathan Hale, transport lead for the commission, said the commission would have to make some difficult decisions. "There is a hard cap on what we have to spend," he said. The commission would encourage Highways England and Network Rail to undertake projects more efficiently.
He said a wider discussion was needed about responsibility: for example for technology in the area of electric and autonomous vehicles, was the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy the right body to take responsibility?

The commission was also asking what are the barriers to the take-up of electric vehicles, for example the lack of a charging network, and the question of who should pay for it.

The commission asked the audience to respond electronically to three multiple choice questions. The results were:

1. How should the Government balance its investment on transport in the UK in future?

(a) More on urban transport: 50%
(b) More on inter-urban networks: 43%
(c) Keep it the same as now 7%

The audience was fairly evenly split between urban and inter-urban.

2. What is the biggest challenge for urban transport in cities in the UK?

(a) Politics/decision-making: 50%
(b) Funding: 31%
(c) Planning: 10%
(d) Delivery: 5%
(e) Something else: 3%

Politics and decision-making was viewed as the biggest challenge by a large margin.

3. What should the Government be focusing on most in the next few years to support the development of connected and autonomous vehicles?

(a) Vehicle technology: 2%
(b) Legislation/regulation: 33%
(c) Infrastructure: 35%
(d) Users/travel behaviour: 30%
(e) Something else: 0%

Responses were split three ways between legislation, infrastructure and users/travel behaviour.