ICE comments on three infrastructure announcements from the recent Conservative Party Conference.
The Conservative Party Conference was Liz Truss’ first major event both as party leader and as the UK’s prime minister.
As the focus was on introducing her vision to the country, policy announcements were relatively light on detail.
However, there have been some importation decisions for infrastructure announced during the conference season.
Here are the top takeaways for infrastructure from the conference.
1. Rail infrastructure investment is a priority
Over the course of the conference, several announcements were made on rail infrastructure investment.
These included the next stage of the £5 billion East-West Rail Project and the reversal of cuts to the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) project made by the previous administration.
The NPR announcement would see it built in full, with a new line built between Liverpool and Hull.
It would also see a new station built in Bradford.
This reverses the decision made in last year’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP).
This underlines a change in priority on rail infrastructure between the Boris Johnson and Truss governments.
The need for better connected transport infrastructure with greater capacity in the North and Midlands has been a long-standing challenge.
It's needed to improve productivity and quality of life.
Making rail travel more accessible is also essential for achieving long-term national objectives.
For example, it could help address regional inequalities and support the transition to net zero.
ICE and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI) will release their paper on accelerating delivery of the Integrated Rail Plan on 19 October 2022.
Growing the economy was the main theme of Liz Truss’ conference speech, and is central to the new government’s vision.
The prime minister emphasised that infrastructure projects are crucial to achieving this aim.
However, she, but was at pains to point out that “infrastructure projects get delayed for years, and years and years”, which has had an impact on growth.
As such, she has pledged to reverse this trend.
As outlined in the mini-budget on 23 September, the government will introduce a Planning and Infrastructure Bill in the coming months.
This new legislation is intended to speed up the delivery of infrastructure projects.
The government has also confirmed that planning consent for onshore wind will be brought in line with other infrastructure.
This paves the way for increased rollout of one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy generation in the UK.
It’s encouraging that the new government views infrastructure as central to achieving its growth ambitions.
ICE will be engaging with the government on the Planning and Infrastructure Bill to determine how infrastructure projects are intended to be accelerated.
However, economic benefits and environmental objectives must reinforce each other for either to succeed.
Infrastructure projects should still help achieve national economic growth and levelling up objectives while being clearly aligned with the UK’s climate mitigation and adaptation needs.
Deregulation that simply makes it easier to get projects going is not sustainable in the long term.
3. Energy security
The war in Ukraine and its impact on energy security were important subjects discussed at the conference.
The government was keen to highlight its recent energy policies, including the energy price guarantee and the intention to move renewable and nuclear generators onto contracts for difference so prices are no longer set by the price for gas.
The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Jacob Rees-Mogg, announced that the UK will build the first prototype fusion energy plant in Nottinghamshire.
This will be built on the site of the West Burton A coal-fired power station and is planned to be operational by the early 2040s.
The potential of fusion power is vast, but there is no guarantee that it will work at the scale planned in the prototype.
ICE has previously said that expanded and accelerated renewable capacity is needed to meet net zero ambitions, alongside a more ambitious nuclear programme.
This is another layer of detail to this ambition, though it may be the case that proven renewable technologies offer a more economical way of tackling climate change than fusion power.
There was also no announcement on reducing energy demand, in particular retrofitting homes and using energy more efficiently.
There are missed opportunities and it is unlikely to bring short-term relief to consumers.
In case you missed it
- Read the ICE’s takeaways from the Labour Party Conference.
- Andrew Jones MP, chair of the APPGI, outlines his thoughts about the recent mini-budget.
- ICE members are invited to contribute to new research evaluating the relationship between the consent process and project implementation.