First-ever UK National Infrastructure Assessment published

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First-ever UK National Infrastructure Assessment published

The UK must act now to make the switch to low carbon energy, reduce congestion, increase recycling and improve resilience to extreme weather events, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has said.17 Jul 2018

The first-ever UK National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) calls for half of the UK's power to be provided by renewables by 2030; nationwide full-fibre broadband by 2033 building on the existing universal service obligation for broadband being developed; and £43 billion of stable long-term transport funding for regional cities. It sets out actions that the government can take to implement these recommendations, in a report to which the government has committed to publishing a formal response within six months.

"Whether it's electric or driverless cars, new energy sources, tackling the risk of climate change or preparing for the newest and fastest broadband speeds, the issues we've been considering profoundly affect people's everyday lives," said NIC chair Sir John Armitt.

"The whole purpose of the UK's first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment is to think beyond the technologies of today and to ensure we can make the most of future innovations. It's why it's not just a one-off but something we will be repeating every five years to ensure we remain on the front foot. This is not some unaffordable wish-list of projects: it sets a clear direction for how to meet the country's future infrastructure needs, and makes a realistic assessment of what can and should be delivered within the stated aim of ministers for steady and continued investment over the coming years," he said.

The NIC was established in 2015 to provide clear, independent advice to the government on how best to meet the country's long-term infrastructure needs. Part of its remit is to produce an NIA once in ever parliament, setting out the NIC's assessment of the UK's long-term infrastructure needs over a 30-year horizon and providing recommendations to address those needs.

The UK's first ever NIA calls for continued investment in low-cost renewable technologies such as wind and solar; combined with measures to improve the energy efficiency of UK buildings and encourage 100% uptake of electric vehicles by 2050. Analysis by the NIC shows that these could be provided at the same cost to consumers as current spending on heating, electricity and transport fuel costs by 2050.

By continuing to drive down the cost of wind and solar power, the NIC predicts that the government can increase the proportion of UK electricity generated by renewable sources from the current 30% to 50% by 2030. It also calls on the government to identify value for money ways to reduce emissions from heating; set out a clear pipeline for future auctions to support renewables, including dates and budgets; and to investigate the feasibility of using hydrogen and heat pumps as low carbon alternatives to oil and gas for heating.

The government should invest £3.8 billion by 2030 into energy efficiency improvements to the country's social housing stock; trial new approaches to drive up efficiency in owner-occupied properties; and come up with a plan for tightening regulations to improve energy efficiency in private rented homes. The NIA has set a target of 21,000 energy efficiency improvements a week by 2020, to include measures such as loft insulation, double glazing or wall insulation.

A 'National Broadband Plan' should be developed by spring 2019, according to the report. This should set out how the government will deliver full-fibre broadband to all UK homes and businesses by 2033, including those in rural areas.

The report recommends greater powers for metro mayors and city leaders to deliver "long term integrated strategies for transport, employment and housing", supported by new powers and "substantial, devolved funding". It recommends £43bn in funding for cities to 2040, with cities given stable five-year budgets beginning in 2021. The report also incorporates funding for planned transport projects including Crossrail 2 in London, and the Northern Powerhouse Rail project linking major cities in the north of England.

The government should also work with local councils and private companies to deliver a national network of charging points for electric vehicles, in preparation for close to 100% electric new car and van sales by 2030. It must also take the impacts of connected and autonomous vehicles into account when planning for the next rail control period and road investment strategy.

Finally, the NIC calls for more funding for flood risk management as part of a new long-term strategy for nationwide flood resilience. This strategy should also incorporate the prevention of "inappropriate" housing development. The government must also develop new national rules on what can and cannot be recycled, aimed at increasing recycling rates and reducing the amount of plastics being sent to incinerators. Separation of food waste would make this available to create biogas for use in heating people's homes and potentially as a transport fuel.

"Britain's first ever National Infrastructure Assessment is welcomed for its comprehensive and far-reaching plans for investing in Britain's infrastructure," said infrastructure expert Graham Robinson of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

"With funding and financing of Britain's infrastructure set to increase by 2020 onwards to 1.2% of GDP - the upper limit of the new 'fiscal remit' given to the NIC by parliament - the question is whether delivery is achievable. The government will need to improve the procurement and delivery of infrastructure projects and achieve much greater levels of efficiency, which is something the IPA's Project Initiation Routemap is aimed at achieving, as well as the ICE's Project 13. The tools and processes are being developed, but government now needs to invest heavily in the skills to achieve this heightened level of investment in infrastructure," he said.

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