UK: Variable Speeds For Transport Infrastructure Planning

Last Updated: 23 July 2012
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry summarises recent announcements on transport infrastructure planning.

Transport policy generally

There were originally to be three transport National Policy Statements (NPSs) - ports, airports and 'national networks' (i.e. roads, railways and rail freight interchanges) that would summarise current policy for the purposes of Planning Act projects.  The Ports NPS is in force, but the other two are yet to appear, even in draft.  There is no sign of them yet, but recent developments are reported below. In summary, roads are in the slow lane, railway investment is on track, and aviation is up in the air.

Before the National Networks NPS is published in draft, the Department for Transport (DfT) is proposing to issue a 'Transport Strategy' in December.  This will be a high-level document applying to all different modes of transport based on three principles:

  • securing investment to provide world class national and international connectivity;
  • harnessing technology to ensure our transport system is smart and sustainable and ready for the future; and
  • putting the customer (the travelling public and businesses) at the heart of transport

The DfT is informally asking certain stakeholders what they think should be in the strategy by mid September.


Separately, the DfT plans to consult on a strategy for the future of the strategic road network (i.e. motorways and trunk roads) by the end of 2012.  This is part of the government's response to the 'Cook report' into the future of highways (not to be confused with the 1990s current affairs TV programme of the same name).

At the other end of the scale, as part of the Penfold Review into removing or simplifying non-planning consents, the DfT issued a consultation yesterday on making it easier to stop up and divert highways for the purpose of property development.


Also yesterday, as part of the flurry of end of term ministerial announcements before the Commons rises for the 'summer' today, Transport Secretary Justine Greening announced a £9.4bn investment in railways, although only £4.2bn of that is new.

Like Soviet agriculture, railway investment is done in a series of five year plans.  Each period of five years is a 'control period', and we are approaching the fifth such period, so if you see references to 'CP5', you will know that means the period 2014-19.  Yesterday's announcement was the High Level Output Specification (HLOS, pronounced aitchloss) for CP5, i.e. what the government wants to see happen during CP5, together with another acronym - SoFA, the Statement of Funds Available, i.e. how much the government is prepared to spend on it.

The HLOS contains four priorities:

  • electrification of a central spine from South Yorkshire to the south coast via the Midland Main Line ('the Electric Spine');
  • increases in capacity and decreases in journey times between large cities, principally on the Great Western, East Coast and Midland Main Lines ('city capacity projects');
  • facilitation of rail commuting into major urban areas - the extension of electrification westwards from Cardiff is part of this ('other electrifiation projects'); and
  • improvement of access to ports and airports - Felixstowe and Southampton are mentioned, as is a western link to Heathrow ('airport and port access').

There is also an illustrative list of schemes, but only the ones in the HLOS itself are fully committed.


Once upon a time there was going to be an Airports NPS, but after the last election this was postponed in favour of a long drawn out reformulation of aviation policy.  In March 2011 there was a consultation on what a 'policy framework' should contain, which was then to be published and consulted upon this March, and finalised next March. 

The consultation on the framework was delayed until this month, and last week a consultation was indeed launched, but the key issue of airport capacity in the south east has been left out of it.  That will undergo an extra hurdle when a 'call for evidence' is issued later this year.  On the plus side, the government is still sticking to the original March 2013 date for finalising its policy framework.  On the minus side, from reading the consultation document this will not include south east airport capacity policy at that point.


There is something of a shake-up of transport policy going on that could be fairly fundamental.  Given its fundamental nature, it is taking a long time and means that there is something of a policy vacuum at the moment, and that the wait for further transport NPSs continues.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Angus Walker
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