My Commission's National Infrastructure Assessment showed the answers must be long term and speak to local needsby John Armitt / November 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
Since the summer, the government has maintained a consistent drumbeat on delivering an “infrastructure revolution,” especially in transport. Its National Infrastructure Strategy—which was due to be published this autumn—was expected to clarify what this might mean in practice.
As the National Infrastructure Commission has stressed in recent months, for any future strategy to be credible—let alone revolutionary—it must be truly long term in outlook, appropriately funded, and have defined plans for delivery, in line with the recommendations in our National Infrastructure Assessment.
In one area, we’re already on the verge of a genuine infrastructure revolution: electric cars. Though currently accounting for only 2.8 per cent of new car sales, they will be crucial for delivering net zero carbon emissions. Indeed, the recent report by the Committee on Climate Change, an independent advisory body, echoes our assessment’s call for the government to prepare for up to 100 per cent of new car sales being electric by 2030.
Persuading drivers to switch means addressing “range anxiety”: the fear of running out of power before you can reach a charging point. Investing in rapid chargers, in places where the market won’t deliver in the short term, is crucial if you want a truly national network of chargers that gives drivers the confidence to switch now. Also important is government direction to Ofgem on the need for network owners to invest.
The current state of many of our urban roads and public transport networks creates a different sort of anxiety for their millions of users. Travel times by road are far slower in cities than elsewhere in the country. While relative traffic volumes mean this may not be surprising, our current public transport alternatives aren’t good enough in most cities, lagging far behind those in many European competitor countries. This will only get worse if action isn’t taken: urban living and working will likely continue to grow in popularity.
Tinkering around the edges won’t suffice. A radical solution is needed. At the commission, we say: give city leaders in Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol and elsewhere around the country the opportunity to emulate London’s transport achievements, through more autonomy over decision-making and an additional £43bn of investment by 2040. This would represent the most fundamental change in transport policy for a generation.
“Up to 100 per cent of new car sales could be electric by 2030”
There is a growing consensus that this approach is necessary. Last month, I hosted a summit with more than 20 metro mayors and city leaders of different political colours. Local leaders are clamouring for the government to extend devolution and lay the foundations for them to deliver an urban transport transformation. Any government adopting our recommendation would allow city leaders to think more strategically about how public transport—including the humble and often-overlooked bus—can support growing communities, help link people to jobs and improve the urban environment.
To usher in a new urban transport age, devolved infrastructure budgets must become a permanent fixture, funded for the long term, giving cities a stable platform for ambitious reforms, freed from Westminster control and accountable to local needs.
Ultimately, what most hard-pressed commuters, residents and businesses of our increasingly congested cities want are transport systems that function effectively. Now, that’s hardly a revolutionary idea.