Government looks to technology for infrastructure growth in Queen’s Speech

The government placed infrastructure and the devolution agenda at the heart of their legislative plans for the coming year as the Queen gave her annual speech.

Legislation was introduced to ensure that the UK pioneers driverless cars (By Michael Shick (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
Legislation was introduced to ensure that the UK pioneers driverless cars (By Michael Shick (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

The Government also reaffirmed its continued support to the development of a Northern Powerhouse, meaning that the 'devolution revolution' will continue to grow with further powers being devolved to directly elected Mayors, such as over local bus services, and for Local Authorities to retain business rates. Much of the legislation echoes calls that ICE have made to ensure that the country's infrastructure needs are planned on a long term basis.

Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill

Amongst a number of bills that will be introduced were a new 'Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill' set to give the independent National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) a statutory footing later this year, in order to help invest in Britain's long-term future. The legislation will set out the NICs' primary duties and continual funding. As had previously been expected, the Commission will not cover housing as a sector in itself, but it will consider it in the context of other projects and proposals.

The Government will have a responsibility to respond to the Commission's recommendations within six months and is likely to publish a progress report. It will also set out the specific areas/short term projects it would like the Commission to look into.

Modern Transport Bill

Legislation has been announced which will enable the future development of the UK's first commercial spaceports and further legislation will ensure that the UK pioneers driverless cars, ensuring appropriate insurance is available to support the use of autonomous and driverless vehicles. New rules will also be brought in to bring safe commercial and personal drone flight for households and businesses a step closer.

Digital Economy Bill

The Digital Economy Bill will see the introduction of a new Broadband Universal Service Obligation – giving all citizens and businesses the legal right to have a fast broadband connection installed. This would work similarly to the landline telephone USO, and just like for landlines there would be a reasonable cost threshold above which the very remotest properties may be expected to contribute to the cost of the installation.

The Government expects the minimum speed to be at least 10Mbps initially, and the Bill would also include a power to direct Ofcom to review the speed over time to make sure it is still sufficient for modern life. New and simpler planning rules will also be introduced for building broadband infrastructure. A new Electronic Communications Code – to cut the cost and simplify the building of mobile and superfast broadband infrastructure.

Local Growth and Jobs Bill

New laws will see the transfer of up to £13 billion to councils through allowing local authorities to retain 100% of their business rates. This will further increase the incentive for them to grow their local economies. Local councils will also be given powers to cut business rates for local firms and give combined authority Mayors the power to raise additional funding for infrastructure where they have the support of local businesses.

The Bill would give the ability to combined authority mayors to levy a supplement on business rates bills to fund new infrastructure projects, provided they have the support of the business community through the Local Enterprise Partnership. This is similar to the decision of local businesses in London to make a contribution towards Crossrail 1.

The Bill would put in place the framework for the delivery of the scheme, and legislate for the set of responsibilities that will be devolved to local authorities as a result of the reforms.

Bus Services Bill

A new Bus Services Bill will put in place stronger arrangements to allow local government to work in partnership with bus operators and give new franchising powers that are clearer and simpler to use. A requirement will be made of all operators to make data about routes, fares and times open and accessible to allow app makers to develop products for passengers to plan journeys.

Higher Education and Research Bill

Measures in the Higher Education and Research Bill will make it easier for new high quality universities to open, boosting competition to improve teaching quality. A reform of university funding that will link funding for universities to the quality of teaching rather than student numbers will also be legislated for, allowing graduate employment prospects to be tracked so students can be sure they are getting value for money.

New requirements will be placed on all universities to publish detailed information about application, offer and progression rates, broken down by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background with the aim of shining a spotlight on universities that need to go further and faster on social mobility and spur further action to ensure all institutions reach out to disadvantaged groups.

"Positive mood"

National Infrastructure Commission member Sir John Armitt said putting the body on a statutory basis was "an important milestone". ICE President Sir John, said:

"The mood in the commission is very positive, as we work towards developing proposals on the deployment of 5G and the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor.

"Critical work to identify the UK's longer term infrastructure needs is also progressing, and the independent ICE-led 'national needs assessment' - which will be provided to the commission in the autumn to support its own needs analysis - is currently being produced following a period of extensive evidence gathering across the UK."

Infrastructure Blog

Sir John gives further insight and analysis into today's Queen's Speech and what it mean for infrastructure in a new blog post available on ICE's Infrastructure Blog. He also sets out the work that ICE has been involved in through the National Needs Assessment, which he is chairing on behalf of a coalition of partners to offer advice and recommendations to Government through the National Infrastructure Commission.

ICE has put together a brand new set of web pages dedicated to exploring the theme of 'Growing cities and building resilience' which explore many of the topics into today's Queen's Speech.

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