UK: Cameron Embraces 'Magic' Infrastructure

Last Updated: 26 March 2012
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry reports on a speech focusing on infrastructure given by David Cameron yesterday.

In a pre-budget speech at the Institute of Civil Engineers yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech extolling the virtues of infrastructure. The full text of the speech can be found here. It is quite a long speech so here are the highlights plus a bit of analysis. I should say at the outset that giving such Prime Ministerial backing to infrastructure is a Good Thing.

Infrastructure generally

"It is not secondary to other, more high profile elements of economic strategy."

"No government in living memory has set out a sufficiently comprehensive and ambitious vision of this country's infrastructure needs."

... until this one, presumably.

"By a comprehensive and ambitious vision, I don't just mean a list of projects."

The National Infrastructure Plan published last November is closer to a list of projects than a vision, if you agree that the former is 'what is happening' and the latter is 'what should be happening'.

"And we can't hide from the fact that new infrastructure has to be paid for either by those who use it, or by government, or a combination of the two."

I would finesse that slightly since something like Tax Increment Financing is neither - it is using a percentage of anticipated local property increases to part-fund projects. Better to say 'benefit from' rather than 'use'.

"the three failures that have held back the development of our infrastructure: failure of vision; failure of financing, and failure of nerve"

"British pension funds will make the first wave of £2 billion investment by 2013"

This was heralded as a source of investment in November's autumn statement, so it appears to be bearing fruit.

Mr Cameron harks back to the visionary Victorians and their infrastructure, but the FT points out that even then they were complaining that the UK was falling behind other countries, citing an 1889 editorial.

Roads

"The last administration only built around twenty-five miles of new motorway which by the way is fewer than the number of transport ministers in that government."

"I have asked the Department for Transport and the Treasury to carry out a feasibility study of new ownership and financing models for the national roads system and to report progress to me in the Autumn."

"this is not about mass tolling"

Note use of the word 'mass'. Tolling for improved infrastructure is on the cards, and it will be interesting to see whether e.g. adding an extra lane to an existing road will allow it to become tolled rather than just tolling entirely new roads.

Railways

"Stephenson's London to Birmingham railway in 1838 built in just five amazing years from the application to parliament to the first through train."

Airports

"In 2010, Beijing capital airport overtook Heathrow as the world's second busiest."

"We will be bringing forward options in our aviation strategy which will include an examination of the pros and cons of a new airport in the Thames estuary"

Supposedly coming this month - see previous blog entry. He is allegedly neutral on a new estuary airport.

Energy

"I can confirm our intention to work with the private sector to deliver the new [nuclear power] plants that companies would like to build between now and 2030."

It is not clear if that is something new and what it actually involves other than an extension of the deadline from 2025 to 2030.

"we are well-placed to become a world leader in offshore wind power - and this Government is doing all it can to make sure that happens"

Not sure it is doing 'all' it can - see below.

Telecoms

"this week the Chancellor will be announcing ten super-connected cities; we will press ahead urgently with the auction of 4G spectrum"

Planning

"perhaps the area where we've seen the greatest loss of nerve in the past is the place where all this comes together..."

"[we need] a planning system that unlocks sustainable growth, rather than holds it back"

"...the planning system for infrastructure that should allow better transport, cleaner energy, and modern telecommunications to deliver their potential."

"the Localism Act, whose provisions enabling local communities to take over the running of local services and decide their neighbourhood plan come into effect in the next few weeks"

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think the 'community right to challenge' is coming into force soon, although neighbourhood planning is.

"we've simplified and improved the major infrastructure planning process for future schemes"

True, but you could do more to simplify and improve it, while preserving proper scrutiny and engagement. There are plenty of suggestions both on this blog, and being made by NIPA.

"we will begin consultation later this year on how to apply the principles of garden cities to areas with high potential growth"

I think that's new. He was promoting a balance between growth in selected areas and protection of other areas (e.g. the green belt).

"shortly we will publish a whole new National Planning Policy Framework"

The final NPPF is eagerly anticipated although it doesn't really apply to major infrastructure projects, the main theme of the speech. Does shortly mean tomorrow

How 'new', i.e. different from the consultation draft, will it be? Watch this space.

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