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“Stuttering” UK infrastructure could lead to missed economic and net zero goals

by | 30 Mar 23 | Featured Slider, News, Sustainability, Topics

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has said that the last year has seen UK infrastructure delivery “stutter further just as the need for acceleration has heightened” and that “in a range of areas, the government is off track to meet its targets and ambitions”.

The NIC has published its Infrastructure Progress Review 2023 and has called for the government to make fewer, bigger and better-targeted initiatives to deliver the infrastructure needed to reach its long-term net zero and economic goals.

It believes that “infrastructure is a key part of the solution” to reaching net zero because the climate is primarily an infrastructure challenge. Two-thirds of emissions come from the six sectors covered by the NIC (digital, transport, energy, flood resilience, water, waste), and figures from the Climate Change Committee suggest that up to £50bn of investment will be needed annually for the next 25 years in order for the UK to reach net zero.

The report states that, while progress is being made, “the elements needed for the successful delivery of the Commission’s recommendations and government’s ambitions are not currently all in place.” It says that significantly more action is needed to meet the Sixth Carbon Budget and that progress on delivering the ambitions set out in the government’s Levelling Up White Paper has been too slow. It adds that “barriers on the ground, such as the planning system, are slowing deployment across the board”.

Its over-arching recommendations to the government for “getting back on track” are:

  • Develop staying power to achieve long-term goals; stop creating uncertainty with continual chopping and changing infrastructure policy
  • Fewer,  but bigger and better interventions from central government with a tighter strategic focus on the areas it can make the most difference rather than “expending too much effort on many small scale funding interventions and repeated consultations, trying to maintain optionality in all areas”
  • Devolve funding and decision-making to local areas, moving away from competitive bidding processes and building on the multi-year funding settlements for combined authorities
  • Remove barriers to delivery on the ground, specifically the planning regime for nationally significant infrastructure projects, where updated National Policy Statements for key sectors are the first big step

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