What the National Infrastructure Strategy should say, by Angus Walker

Although there is currently a question mark as to whether the budget will go ahead on 11 March and the National Infrastructure Strategy with it, given the sudden change in chancellor, this is a good opportunity to consider what should be in the strategy.

Angus Walker
Angus Walker

The strategy’s main function is to respond to the National Infrastructure Commission’s National Infrastructure Assessment, which was published in July 2018. With a large solar farm on its cover, it had seven main recommendations:

  • nationwide full fibre broadband by 2033
  • half of the UK’s power provided by renewables by 2030
  • three quarters of plastic packaging recycled by 2030 
  • £43 billion of stable long term transport funding for regional cities 
  • preparing for 100 per cent electric vehicle sales by 2030 
  • ensuring resilience to extreme drought 
  • a national standard of flood resilience for all communities by 2050

The current situation is:

  • the government has already committed to the broadband target by 2025; 
  • it has still only got a 20% by 2020 commitment on renewables but is committed to ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050, to be fleshed out in an energy white paper coming at around the same time as the budget; 
  • it has consulted on a plastic packaging tax, but doesn’t have a recycling target;
  • there is piecemeal transport funding but not the scale the NIC is looking for;
  • the electric vehicle target is currently 2040
  • there is no drought strategy that I’m aware of although some water companies are planning transfer pipelines between area;
  • the Environment Agency consulted on flood resilience in summer 2019

Net zero, coming as it did after the NIA was published, has rather changed the landscape and made the assessment out of date in that important respect.  The government’s strategy needs to build on the NIA recommendations and also set out how net zero will be achieved on top (chiming with the energy white paper).

I think battery storage and electric cars may only be a medium-term solution (and the batteries involved in both currently require significant mining operations) and that new sources of fuel such as hydrogen may be more sustainable in the long term.

Transport for economic prosperity is mainly about bringing people closer to jobs and should be viewed in that way when it is planned.  Water and flooding are more mundane but not only should there be a national standard for flood resilience (e.g. 1 in 100 year events) but the calculation of that score should be revisited in the light of extreme weather over the last few years.

This strategy is an important moment to point the UK in the right direction for the next 30 years and take the global lead in technological innovation, emissions reduction and communications availability, as well as making the country as resilient as possible to climate change, dependence on foreign resources and terrorist and other attacks. I await its recommendations with great interest.

Angus Walker is a partner at BDB Pitmans

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