Time to lay foundations for North’s infrastructure – Sir John Armitt

New infrastructure is vital to enhance the North's future prospects, says Sir John Armitt.
New infrastructure is vital to enhance the North's future prospects, says Sir John Armitt.
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INFRASTRUCTURE is not just for engineers. It’s built by engineers to make life better for every man, woman and child living in this country. North and South alike.

It has a profound effect on everyone’s daily lives: how we live, travel, work and support our families. And it’s painfully obvious when it fails us.

Sir John Armitt is chair of the National Infrastructure Commission.

Sir John Armitt is chair of the National Infrastructure Commission.

So as Britain shapes its global future for the late 21st century and beyond, it’s essential that we show courage in the development of cleaner, more efficient ways to travel; less polluting energy sources and better digital connectivity for work and play.

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But we are living in such tumultuous political times that it’s hard for people to think beyond the next few days, never mind ahead to the next few decades.

That’s why the National Infrastructure Commission, the Government’s independent advisor on long-term development, has set out exactly how best to build the foundations of our future up to 2050.

Our National Infrastructure Assessment covers transport, energy, waste, water use, flood resilience and digital connectivity.

And we will hold the Government to account for its progress – or lack of it.

That’s why I’ve written to the Chancellor outlining four key tests by which the Government’s strategy will be judged. It must adopt a long-term view; clear goals and plans to back them up; a firm funding commitment; and – crucially – a genuine commitment to change.

Take transport. HS2 has the potential to transform the country’s connectivity. And when combined with the benefits of Northern Powerhouse Rail, it will generate economic growth and boost productivity for the North. I saw the difference that properly integrated transport could make when I toured Bradford with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority chair last year.

We say new devolved powers and £43bn of additional funding should be given to city leaders and Metro mayors to develop their own strategies for transport, employment and housing.

We’re already working closely with West Yorkshire cities as a case study region to help them determine the best way to use such powers to make the region’s transport fit for new generations.

After 100 years, there’s also a new revolution unfolding on our roads. Electric vehicles are going mainstream – but not fast enough. We want the government to play a leading role and “Charge Up Britain” by supporting the introduction of a truly, national visible charging network.

We say that if the right incentives are put in place now, sales of all new cars and vans could be electric by 2030.

Our assessment also sets a path for nationwide full fibre broadband by 2033; half the UK’s power provided by renewables by 2030; better resilience to extreme drought and a national standard of flood resilience for all communities by 2050.

These all present opportunities. A sharper focus on developing new offshore and onshore wind generation and solar power technologies is an area where Yorkshire can lead.

When I was on Humberside in March, I saw how firms in the region are driving the development of low-carbon energy generation for the whole country.

In Hull and Leeds, I heard about the increasing risk from flooding, which makes the new approaches the Commission suggests to resilience all the more urgent.

We have a clear and fully- costed plan for the future of UK infrastructure. The next challenge is to ensure it is implemented.

The Commission has welcomed commitments already made by the Government, in line with our assessment, for expanding fibre broadband accessibility, improving the resilience of the water supply and tougher standards on waste and recycling.

When he announces his own strategy later this year, the Chancellor needs commit to funding 1.2 per cent of GDP a year investment in infrastructure, backed up with specific plans and people clearly responsible for their delivery.

Most important of all, the Government needs to make a genuine commitment to change. Our proposals to devolve transport funding to cities and a national standard for flood resilience are fundamentally different to what’s been done before. I hope the Government responds in the same spirit, and delivers a shared ambition for the future prosperity of the country.

Now is the time for communities and businesses across Yorkshire to be vocal in their support for our once-in-a-generation transformation of the UK’s transport, energy and technology networks. A transformation that can unite North and South in a common vision of economic success.

Sir John Armitt is Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission – follow www.nic.org.uk or @NatInfraCom