Improved infrastructure to boost UK economic growth and meet climate goals can occur if policy steps are taken, according to the government’s independent advisers on infrastructure strategy.
The second five-yearly review, called the National Infrastructure Assessment, by the National Infrastructure Commission has recommended a major review of public transport upgrades in congested cities, introducing low carbon flexible technologies to the electricity system, better maintenance of the UK roads, and decarbonising buildings through electrification.
The report says significant public and private investment in infrastructure if the UK is required to rebalance its economic geography, meet climate obligations, improve resilience and enhance the natural environment.
The Commission calculates that government’s commitment to a sharp increase in public sector investment in infrastructure to around £30 billion per year will need to be sustained until 2040.
It says policy stability and ‘pro-investment’ regulation are needed, as well as speeding up the planning system from energy transmission schemes. In addition, it finds that the average household will save at least £1,000 per year by the mid 2030s compared to today, largely driven by the transition away from fossil fuels onto cheaper low carbon electricity.
The Assessment proposes significant additional electricity storage capacity and demand side response – tools to reduce or reschedule energy usage at times of peak demand – to increase the short term flexibility of the power grid. The Commission calculates 60GW of this capacity will be needed by 2035 (up from around 15GW today).
The Commission calls for action to tackle road congestion and improve public transport, calling for investment of £22bn in mass transit schemes in the cities outside London with the greatest likely need for increased passenger demand, beginning with Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester and their city regions.
Writing in the report’s foreword, Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “The good news is that modern, reliable infrastructure can support economic growth, help tackle climate change and enhance the natural environment. We stand at a pivotal moment in time, with the opportunity to make a major difference to this country’s future. But we need to get on with it. “People often talk about infrastructure as the backbone of our economy: what our infrastructure needs now is the collective mettle to turn commitments into action that will reap rewards for decades to come.”
Responding to the Assessment, Logistics UK’s Chief Executive David Wells OBE expressed the sector’s disappointment at the lack of consideration given to the needs of logistics businesses: “As an industry, we are committed to decarbonising, but the infrastructure to support this change still does not exist. 2050 is still some way off, but our city centres cannot be revitalised without the delivery networks that our members provide to make them work.”
Lawrence Slade, CEO, ENA, which represents the UK’s energy networks, said: “Moving forward, the UK must continue working from the basis that no one solution is suitable for all circumstances. It’s clear network operators will need to employ multiple solutions to decarbonise heat, from electrification to hydrogen and other forms of heat provision, offer consumers real choice in how they heat their homes and ensure the UK can sustainably heat residences and run businesses over the coming years.”
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