Rail infrastructure projects set to play a key part in Government’s levelling up agenda and post-COVID recovery…
CHANCELLOR Rishi Sunak has pledged to make a “once in a generation investment” in infrastructure as part of the national economic recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic.
The plans, which were announced as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review on November 25, include £100 billion worth of capital spending next year (£27bn more than has been spent this year) on building projects for schools, hospitals, housing and transport.
A £4bn Levelling Up fund has also been launched for local projects such as road bypasses and railway station upgrades, as the Chancellor looks to protect jobs and grow an economy that is predicted to contract by 11.3% this year and not return to its prepandemic size until late 2022.
The spending review was accompanied by the publication of the National Infrastructure Strategy, which had originally been expected in March before being delayed by the outbreak of the pandemic (see story, below).
Designed to boost growth across the UK, support private investment and help the country meet its 2050 climate goals, more details are expected in next year’s spending review once key documents have been published - including the Union Connectivity Review and the Integrated Rail Plan.
A new UK infrastructure bank is to be created and headquartered in the north of England, to work with the private sector to help finance major new investment projects.
Sunak also announced an overhaul of the Treasury’s ‘Green Book’ process and the way it assesses investment programmes, so that decision-making is less dominated by Benefit: Cost Ratios that typically favour projects in London and the South East (see panel).
“Our health emergency is not yet over and the economic emergency has only just begun, so our immediate priority is to protect
people’s lives and livelihoods,” he said.
“But today’s Spending Review delivers a once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure - creating jobs, growing the economy, and increasing pride in the places people call home.”
He added that the Government’s commitment to infrastructure spending would also “invest in the greener future we promised and deliver the Prime Minister’s tenpoint plan for a green industrial revolution” (see panel).
Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds hit back at
Sunak and said that his failure to greenlight major projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail showed that government claims of levelling up the country were “not supported by the evidence”.
She said that the paucity of firm commitments made the chances of the UK reaching net zero carbon by 2050 “less likely” rather than more.
Campaign for Better Transport welcomed the announcement of a Levelling Up fund and changes to the ‘Green Book’, but said it was disappointed that government had failed to pledge a fares freeze in the New Year, as without it “people will simply stay home”.
The Railway Industry Association also welcomed the Levelling Up fund, the National Infrastructure
Strategy and new infrastructure bank, but expressed concern at the lack of updates on specific rail schemes.
RIA Chief Executive Darren Caplan added: “We have been waiting over a year to hear news about what enhancement projects are to be taken forward and when. Despite supposedly 80 schemes on this list, we are still no nearer knowing which ones are to be progressed.”
Transport for the North Chief Executive Barry White described the Chancellor’s announcements as “promising” but pointed to the amount of detail which is still to come in the yet-to-be published Integrated Rail Plan, which he “awaits with interest”.