Sir Peter Hendy CBE joined the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure to provide an overview of the key themes of the report assessing transport connectivity between the UK nations.
We had a further APPGI meeting on Wednesday last week, and I thought it was excellent. The subject was highly topical, and the interest levels matched it.
We discussed the Union Connectivity Review (UCR) - assessing transport connectivity between the nations of the United Kingdom - with its chair, Sir Peter Hendy CBE.
But what made it particularly interesting for me was how the introductory remarks and then the discussion developed from the merits of specific pieces of infrastructure to the economic and social benefits that can be achieved with transport investment.
An update on the status of the UCR
Sir Peter Hendy CBE was the guest speaker and he is always great to listen to. He was very open and detailed in his remarks and answers. We had an update on his thinking and the status of the UCR.
It was not breaking confidences in advance of the final report for him to confirm that he would be recommending the creation of a UK transport network (replacing the old EU equivalent).
Further, it was likely that the report would be detailed with some examples of infrastructure projects, though not so much that it just becomes a list of projects.
'Once a Treasury minister, always a Treasury minister'
All the questioners had clear belief that economic, social and environmental progress would be made with transport investment.
Bit inevitable that one, given the audience, but it helped some of the questions move to the interesting area of how projects are approved. The old cost:benefit question as the approval metric for projects has already been superseded, but questions and comments about other factors being part of the decision-making process came from several people.
I thought the ideas must be explored, but given the state of our public finances, robust measures and strategic clarity must always count. I suppose once a Treasury minister, always a Treasury minister.
Keeping all bodies engaged
Parliamentary interest in this meeting was very noticeable, especially with colleagues from Wales and Scotland and from both sides of the nationalist debate. That will run and run.
How the UK government works with the devolved parliaments and assemblies when transport is largely a devolved matter is complex. Discussing that is not part of the UCR, but keeping all bodies engaged will be part of how its findings are delivered.
The Boris bridge: a 120-year-old idea
There is one specific idea that will be guaranteed to attract attention, a fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland. I knew the PM had talked about it; what I didn't know, until Sir Peter mentioned it, was that it was first put forward 120 years ago.
There is a project group looking at its feasibility, engineering and cost, and that will report with the final publication. It would not be a recommendation, but a presentation of an expert assessment.
The technicians must have their role, but there is a point when political decisions take over.
I look at the UCR as, among other things, a means of creating wealth across all parts of our nation. It's simply too hard and too expensive to move people and goods around the UK. The opportunities that can be created from investment are very profound. I am excited by those opportunities being spread more widely.
Sir Peter described the UCR as “important work” – everyone clearly agreed. Plenty to look forward to when his final report is published this summer.