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Queen's Speech 2021 - what the announcements mean for UK infrastructure

11 May 2021

The 2021 Queen’s Speech outlined the UK government's legislative programme for the next session of Parliament. ICE's Director of Policy, Chris Richards, explores the main infrastructure announcements.

Queen's Speech 2021 - what the announcements mean for UK infrastructure

The second Queen's Speech since the general election in December 2019 outlined the UK government's legislative programme for the next session of Parliament. The UK government is keen to use the next parliamentary session to reboot and renew its programme for government following the UK leaving the European Union and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

So, what was announced? 

Queen's Speech announcements for infrastructure 

Many of the announcements for new legislation were expected, having been subject to consultation or pre-briefing over the last 12 months.

Key items of legislation announced included plans to enable Phase 2b of High Speed 2, from Crewe to Manchester, to go ahead. The delayed Integrated Rail Plan for the Midlands and the North is widely expected to be published in the coming months which will also give clarity on the Eastern leg of High Speed 2. 

The Speech also announced a new bill to extend 5G mobile coverage and gigabit capable broadband as part of plans announced in the National Infrastructure Strategy last year.  

Two post-Brexit bills on state aid and procurement reform will also be brought forward, which will have some impact on how the UK government contracts with the construction industry. ICE recently responded to the consultation that will feed into this reform of procurement. 

The Planning Bill, among other changes, will also outline how strategic infrastructure is planned in the future. You can see a summary of ICE's thoughts here on the changes needed to strategic planning for infrastructure. 

And a new Environment Bill which will set new targets for the protection of the environment in England and Wales was announced. Recently the National Infrastructure Commission announced plan to include protecting and enhancing natural capital as part of its evaluation of future infrastructure requirements. 

There were a few items missing which we would have expected to see, including a bill to put the UK Infrastructure Bank on a statutory footing.  

The Queen's Speech also outlines government priorities, not just legislation, and in two areas previous priorities were restated.

Levelling-up: “my government will level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom” 

Levelling-up was a major plank of the Conservatives' winning election manifesto. At its heart is a desire to address regional socio-economic inequalities, particularly in the north of England. But what the UK government believes good looks like and the best steps to get us there, is still not clear.  

The government appears to have heard this advice and has already announced its intention of producing a White Paper later this year to provide further clarity. Addressing regional inequalities through infrastructure investment is something ICE has long championed going back to our National Needs Assessment in 2016. 

Over the past year, we've been exploring this discussion with policy makers and other officials. There is an easy opportunity to align levelling-up outcomes with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and we'll be producing more on this in the coming months. Crucially, this is not just about cash, but reshaping how decisions are made to give places a chance to prosper on their own terms.  

Decarbonising to achieve net-zero: “The United Kingdom is committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050&rdquo

The UK was the first country to legislate for a net-zero carbon emissions target and is hosting COP26 later this year, where countries will be expected to raise their ambition on climate change mitigation to fully realise the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Queen's Speech reaffirmed the UK government's commitment to the net-zero by 2050 emissions target. We expect to see the new interim target, of a 78% cut against 1990 levels by 2035, enshrined in legislation. This was trailed a few weeks ago with the government accepting the advice of the Committee on Climate Change for the sixth Carbon Budget. This is all positive.  

However, promising big is easy, delivering remains a struggle. The UK was already falling short in meeting some of the original targets with progress assessments on both the fourth and fifth Carbon Budgets showing the UK was behind schedule. 

There are a variety of plans due to come out this year that should include further detail on the government’s thinking, including an overarching Net Zero Strategy, Transport Decarbonisation Plan, and the Treasury’s Net Zero Review. It is important that these outline clear policies alongside ambitions if the UK is to reach its net zero goal.

We’ve been active in discussing these with officials and decision makers over the past year, including exploring lessons from other countries such as Sweden, exploring how to decarbonise the electricity system and what needs to be in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan.

ICE will continue to engage with policy and decision makers to maximise the use of the infrastructure system to underpin the creation of a more sustainable UK. To keep informed of our progress, sign up to receive our monthly newsletter ICE Informs

  • Chris Richards, director of policy at Institution of Civil Engineers