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7 infrastructure takeaways from the 2024 Conservative Party manifesto

11 June 2024

The Conservative Party has published its general election manifesto. What would the Conservatives remaining in government mean for infrastructure?

7 infrastructure takeaways from the 2024 Conservative Party manifesto
Conservative leader Rishi Sunak launched the party’s 2024 general election manifesto at Silverstone racing circuit. Image credit: The Conservative Party (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Conservative leader Rishi Sunak launched the party’s 2024 general election manifesto on 11 June 2024.

The 76-page document outlines the Conservative’s plans to “deliver a more secure future” for the UK.

Here are seven key takeaways and what it would mean for infrastructure if the Conservatives remain in government.

1. The cost of net zero

The Conservative Party remains committed to net zero by 2050. But the manifesto refers to a more “pragmatic” approach to cutting the cost of net zero for consumers.

It promises no new green levies or charges, while speeding up the rollout of renewable energy.

The ICE has explored public perceptions of specific green levies and charges in a recent paper on public behaviour changes and net zero.

The manifesto references trebling offshore wind capacity and building the first two carbon capture and storage clusters: one across North Wales and the North West of England, and one across Teesside and the Humber region.

It also commits £1.1 billion to the Green Industries Growth Accelerator and to putting in place a new levy on carbon-intensive imports by 2027.

The manifesto also refers to implementing the recommendations of the Winser review to reduce connection waiting times for windfarms and solar arrays and improve grid connectivity.

2. Investing in local infrastructure

Local infrastructure plays a key role in the manifesto’s pledge to strengthen communities.

The party has committed to investing £36 billion in local rail, roads, and buses to drive regional growth.

This includes £8.3 billion that has been reallocated from the cancellation of the second phase of HS2 to fill potholes and resurface roads.

Northern Powerhouse Rail is also specifically cited. The manifesto sets out plans to deliver the project, fund electrification to Hull, and build a new station in Bradford.

There’s also a £1.75 billion commitment to fully funding the Midlands Rail Hub.

3. Speeding up infrastructure delivery

The manifesto commits to shortening the average time it takes to sign off major infrastructure projects from four years to one.

This includes ensuring requirements to offset the environmental impacts of new infrastructure and homes are “proportionate" without compromising environmental outcomes.

It also seeks to reduce the cost of infrastructure by allowing quicker changes to consented projects and ensuring National Policy Statements are regularly updated.

The manifesto refers to ending what it calls “frivolous legal challenges” that delay infrastructure projects by reducing the time taken on judicial reviews.

4. Levelling up is still here

The manifesto refers to the previous flagship Conservative policy: levelling up.

Plans now extend to 30 more towns, with specific levelling-up funding allocated for high street regeneration or bringing housing to town centres.

Devolution is also a key part of the manifesto, with the commitment that by 2030, every part of England that wants one will get a devolution deal.

They will also offer deeper devolution powers to areas in England with an existing devolution deal and directly elected leader, beginning in Tees Valley with Conservative Mayor Ben Houchen.

5. Ending road user charging, no new smart motorways, and reversing ULEZ

The manifesto sets out a ‘Backing Drivers Bill’ to stop road pricing, including banning mayors and local councils from introducing road user charging.

The manifesto also intends to reverse the ULEZ (Ultra-Low Emission Zone) expansion in London and introduce rights to challenge existing low-traffic neighbourhood and 20mph schemes.

The manifesto also maintains the Conservative pledge to build no new smart motorways.

6. Planning for rail reform

On rail, the Conservatives plan to introduce a Rail Reform Bill to create Great British Railways, a public-private partnership.

The manifesto also sets out plans to allocate £44 billion of funding for Network Rail over the next five years and invest in the Transpennine Route Upgrade, laying the foundations for Northern Powerhouse Rail.

The ICE has previously set out the case for a national transport strategy, which outlined a strategic approach to transport planning that ensures the efficient management of emissions.

7. Reforming the water sector

The Conservatives’ plan for water examines the regulatory process for water companies in England and Wales.

Currently, the regulator, Ofwat, reviews the maximum prices water companies charge their customers. These reviews take place every five years.

The manifesto proposes a move to a more localised, outcome-focussed approach that better uses nature-based solutions and strengthens sanctions for water companies that fail to deliver for the public and the environment.

The manifesto also highlights plans to work with the regulator to hold water companies “to account”, including banning executive bonuses if a company has committed a serious criminal breach.

The ICE is currently developing a green paper examining the options for water sector reform.

ICE priorities for the next UK government

The ICE has recently outlined the priorities the next government should focus on, including reducing the UK’s carbon emissions, unlocking economic growth, adapting to climate change, and improving the lives of the public.

Find out more

In case you missed it

  • Policy Fellow Robert White analyses the 2024 New Zealand Budget.
  • In the latest ICE Infrastructure Policy Watch, New Zealand assesses infrastructure funding, and World Bank offers insight into private investment.
  • Laura Cunliffe-Hall, interim lead policy manager at ICE