UK making ‘negligible advances’ on infrastructure initiatives, advisers say

The government is not focusing enough on infrastructure projects which would secure economic growth and a lower carbon economy, a new report by independent advisers has said.

The UK is “moving too slowly” on projects set to push forward economic and climate targets, according to the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) latest Infrastructure Progress Review.

The country’s official independent infrastructure adviser has warned the government is at risk of failing to deliver the aims of its National Infrastructure Strategy unless it picks up the pace with detailed policy design and implementation.

The NIC stressed that the UK is “off track to meet its targets and ambitions” across a range of measures such as planning, funding and delivery of many of its infrastructure targets.

In particular, advisers criticised the government over its “negligible advances in improving the energy efficiency of UK homes, the installation of low-carbon heating solutions or securing a sustainable balance of water supply and demand”.

Although the government has set an ambition for at least 600,000 heat pumps to be installed each year by 2028, only 55,000 were fitted in 2021. Similarly, only 37,000 public charge points are currently installed, out of the 300,000 that were promised to be put in place by 2030. 

The review added that, in the course of the last year, progress towards “major infrastructure objectives” had stuttered even further at a time when “the need for acceleration has heightened”.

Despite its criticisms, the NIC gave the government credit for increased investment: a £100bn commitment over the next three years, alongside an indication of increased spending in the long term.

The Commission also noted that some of the advisory body’s key recommendations have been delivered this year, including the creation of the UK Infrastructure Bank, and that both gigabit broadband coverage and renewable electricity capacity have continued to increase. 

However, “some of the strategies government has developed over the last year lack detailed delivery policy, leave key gaps, or simply do not go far enough,” the report said. 

The organisation called for the government to focus on developing fewer, bigger and better-targeted initiatives, in order to meet long-term economic targets and climate goals. 

The NIC highlighted ten priorities for the year ahead, including the urgent need for a comprehensive energy efficiency push to insulate homes; devolved funding to more councils for local transport schemes, and the need to accelerate the rollout of electric vehicle charging points to ensure the 2030 date for the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars remains viable. 

The Commission’s report also flags the need for big decisions on how the net-zero transition will be funded and ensuring that the costs will be distributed “fairly” and through “open and honest conversations”. 

Additionally, it called for a “greater sense of certainty” around progressing HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, stressing that delays inevitably push back the economic benefits for communities.

“At a time of significant global volatility alongside concerns about rising living costs, we appreciate that sticking to a long-term strategy is not easy,” wrote Sir John Armitt, the Commission chair, in the foreword to the report.

“But it is the only way to address the stubbornly difficult problems that will not become any easier or cheaper to solve by delaying action – and the quicker we tackle them, the quicker society and our environment will reap the benefits.”

The report concluded that the UK “must remain an internationally competitive place to invest, at a time when the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States and the REPowerEU plan and the Net-Zero Industry Act in the European Union make the investment environment more challenging”.

Over the last few months, the EU and the US have clashed following Washington’s decision to grant tax credits to citizens buying electric cars made in North America, which the EU said discriminates against foreign manufacturers and would break international trade rules

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