The ICE Policy and Public Affairs team has been at this year's Labour Party Conference in Brighton to promote the work of the Institution to politicians and industry.
As the UK’s political parties gear up for a possible general election, this year’s Labour Party Conference in Brighton was dominated by the party’s Brexit stance and the Supreme Court ruling regarding the prorogation of Parliament.
Behind the scenes however, industry and opposition MPs alike were keen to discuss key infrastructure topics given the public’s clear appetite for greater investment in the UK’s economic infrastructure networks.
Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn reiterated Labour’s plans for an investment ‘blitz’ to rival the government’s ‘infrastructure revolution’ with £250bn being promised to upgrade the transport, energy and broadband infrastructure.
Ambitious commitments such as these go far with the public, as suggested by recent polling conducted on behalf of ICE, which showed that 74% agree that politicians should talk about the benefits, rather than the costs, of major infrastructure projects.
However, it’s important that we don’t just end up with a list of infrastructure projects. ICE wants a National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) that sets out a strategic approach to UK infrastructure provision and optimises the benefits that we already know good infrastructure generates for the UK.
The key infrastructure topics discussed throughout the conference were housing, northern connectivity and High Speed Two (HS2), all areas which ICE’s Policy and Public Affairs team was able to provide insight on.
At a panel discussion on housing and planning, Shadow Housing Minister Alex Cunningham MP suggested that new developments should only be built in areas with sufficient transport links or plans for them. ICE staff highlighted the recently published State of the Nation 2019: Connecting Infrastructure with Housing, which provides a series of recommendations that would ensure infrastructure is delivered alongside housing.
The conversation around housing continued in a separate panel discussion, attended by Helen Hayes MP and organised by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), Home Builders Federation (HBF) and British Property Federation (BPF).
ICE’s Public Affairs Team asked the panel whether they supported the charter of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) being amended to include housing. In a sign of support for this key recommendation from State of the Nation 2019, the panel showed great interest in the proposal, with RTPI reiterating their support for such a move.
A devolved approach to infrastructure
Northern connectivity was also high on the agenda at a series of fringe events due to its crucial role in being able to bridge the north-south divide.
Attendees heard about decisions being made outside Whitehall and Westminster at a panel discussion on why the transport infrastructure revolution is needed. When asked by ICE for their views on the establishment of a Council of the North, as recommended by ICE, the panel and Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, in particular, were quick to recognise the importance of combined thinking by northern leaders, Local Enterprise Partnerships and regional organisations.
Building on the conversation around northern infrastructure, ICE asked panel members at a separate event whether they agreed with ICE’s calls for a Northern Infrastructure Strategy. Shadow Treasury Minister Anneliese Dodds MP welcomed the proposals and highlighted Labour’s plans to reprioritise northern infrastructure within its investment plans.
On the issue of HS2, ICE attended various events and heard differing views on the project from opposition MPs and industry.
Given the importance of the ongoing Oakervee Review, both advocates and opponents of HS2 were keen to discuss the future of the scheme in more detail.
ICE recently published an insights paper which revisits the potential benefits, the needs case and the current status of the project, including concerns around delivery and opposition to it.
The Public Affairs Team discussed this paper in detail with a number of Labour MPs, including Liam Byrne MP, who spoke at a reception organised by High Speed Rail Industry Leaders (HSRIL).
Throughout the duration of the conference, members of the Shadow Cabinet made a series of announcements relating to the future of UK infrastructure.
Notably, it was announced that a Labour government would launch a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ to tackle climate change by bringing the net-zero emissions target forward to 2030.
This would involve investing £3.6bn into a massive expansion of the UK’s electric vehicle charging network by 2030. ICE has previously carried out research into how electric vehicle charging infrastructure can be delivered and also supports the National Infrastructure Assessment’s (NIA) focus on a charging infrastructure network which will enable the use of more electric vehicles.
Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey MP also announced that Labour would build 37 new offshore windfarms, under 51% public ownership, and use the profits to tackle climate change. The party hopes this would see a major ramping up of offshore wind power in the UK and create more jobs in the country.
Next year, ICE will be looking at the UK’s net-zero carbon emissions target and what it means for infrastructure for State of the Nation 2020. This pledge by Labour is intended to further its ambition to lead the UK’s net-zero target, therefore ICE will be paying close attention to announcements over the coming months.
In summary, ICE was pleased to see key topics which we’ve recently covered leading the infrastructure debate at this year’s Labour Party Conference.
It was clear through engagement with both opposition MPs, their advisers and industry that ICE is valued as being vital to ensuring the UK’s infrastructure needs are known.
As a general election potentially looms, ICE wants all political parties to recognise the need for a long-term strategic approach to tackle the UK’s infrastructure challenges.
Next week ICE’s Policy and Public Affairs Team's will be at the at the Conservative Party Conference.