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Infrastructure blog

Long-term infrastructure planning at the heart of 2023 Labour conference

18 October 2023

The ICE attended a full-capacity 2023 Labour Party Conference in Liverpool.

Long-term infrastructure planning at the heart of 2023 Labour conference
Labour focused on decarbonisation, planning reform, and investing in infrastructure at its 2023 party conference. Image credit: Keir Starmer (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED)

Earlier in October, the ICE joined thousands of delegates at the 2023 Labour Party Conference in Liverpool to promote the institution’s work and influence key infrastructure debates.

The overarching theme was delivering growth. Opposition leader Kier Starmer’s keynote speech looked ahead to a “decade of renewal”, with Labour as the “builders”.

With a general election still months away, in-depth policy detail was light – but the party set a clear direction in several areas.

Investment and longer-term planning are at the centre of Labour’s plans

The conference took place a week after HS2, the largest multi-decade infrastructure project the UK has attempted, was cut short.

So it’s no surprise that much talk focused on the need for longer-term planning and certainty for infrastructure.

In her keynote speech, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves pledged to speed up the planning for critically important infrastructure by updating all national policy statements within the first six months of a Labour government.

She also highlighted the need to attract private investment to support projects.

Throughout the conference, the party highlighted the urgent need for planning reform to drive investment.

Ambitious targets for 1.5 million new homes within five years, new towns, and fast-tracked approval processes for brownfield sites were prominent points in Keir Starmer’s headline speech.

The ICE’s view

The ICE has previously highlighted the urgent need to reduce delays and uncertainty across key infrastructure systems.

There’s a clear need for a strong, efficient, and comprehensive spatial planning system that:

  • gives certainty to investors and developers;
  • empowers residents and businesses to shape the future development of their area; and
  • realises national social, environmental, and economic ambitions.

Labour’s focus on reform is welcome. However, while new homes are key to addressing Britain’s housing crisis, it’s important for new developments to properly assess and cost infrastructure requirements.

What’s next for rail in the aftermath of HS2?

At a fringe event with the Shadow Rail Minister Stephen Morgan MP, industry experts were unanimous on the need for a long-term plan for rail.

Specifically, they want clarity on which parts of the network need to be electrified and how the government will prioritise this.

The fallout from HS2’s cancellation continued, with industry specialists highlighting the economic and social consequences the changed plans had on businesses and communities.

Party delegates also approved a motion that called on the Labour Party to commit to high-speed rail running to Manchester and Leeds.

The ICE’s view

As the ICE pointed out in a statement on the cancellation of HS2, the UK's stop-start approach to major infrastructure benefits no one.

The country needs consistent policymaking that provides certainty for the rail sector.

The ICE has set out the need for a coherent and long-term framework for transport policy.

A national transport strategy could end the stop-start approach to investment and picking of pet projects.

Climate change, energy and net zero: developing ‘a green British economy’

The next government will have plenty of immediate challenges related to the public sector.

But whoever is in charge in 2024 will also need to make significant decisions that will affect the UK’s 2030 and 2050 net zero targets.

MPs representing Labour emphasised the economic arguments for ambitious yet achievable decarbonisation targets to drive private investment.

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves compared Labour’s economic plans to USA President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act.

Shadow Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband pledged an Energy Independence Act to “break Britain’s dependency on fossil fuel dictators”.

There was a National Engineering Policy Centre fringe on net zero, which saw panellists including Shadow Energy Minister Chi Onwurah and former ICE president Rachel Skinner.

They discussed the need for investment and maintenance in existing infrastructure to ensure the UK meets its net zero targets.

The ICE’s view

Looking forward and increasing investment into renewables, rather than backward toward fossil fuels, will improve the UK’s long-term energy security and be key to delivering a just net zero transition.

By integrating green policies into foreign policy, the UK can also be an important global leader in reducing emissions and meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The public must be at the centre of the net zero transition.

We recently published a green paper on public behavioural change and net zero.

In it, we highlighted that, so far, incoherent policymaking has affected the progress of the electric vehicle transition, decarbonisation of homes, and investment in energy efficiency.

Labour’s decarbonisation plans focused on meeting key climate commitments – but not all parts of the country can be expected to decarbonise at the same time.

A place-based approach is needed to ensure behavioural changes can become more relevant and meaningful to the public and endure in the long term.

With party conferences and by-elections out the way (for now), the starting gun has been well and truly fired for next year's general election.

The ICE will continue to talk to all parties to ensure they are informed of the key decisions that need to be made in the infrastructure space.

Find out more

The ICE and All-Party Parliamentary Group for Infrastructure (APPGI) has begun a programme of work on public engagement and net zero to better understand how to find solutions to public behaviour change.

Contact [email protected] to respond to our consultation.

You can also read our takeaways from the 2023 Conservative and Liberal Democrat party conferences.

  • Laura Cunliffe-Hall, interim lead policy manager at ICE
  • Vanessa Furey, head of external affairs at Institution of Civil Engineers