790: NIC gives Government mixed report on infrastructure progress
Today’s entry reports on the National Infrastructure Commission’s first Annual Monitoring Report.
The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) was set up a couple of years ago to draw up a National Infrastructure Assessment, which is in progress, and conduct specific studies at the Government’s behest, of which it has done six so far.
Each of these studies contains a series of recommendations, and last week the NIC published its first analysis of how the Government was getting on with the recommendations. In summary: not bad, but some areas are proceeding too slowly.
The monitoring report covers the first four studies, since the last two were too recent for any action to have been taken yet. However, it also covers the ’12 priority actions’ that the NIC identified off its own bat after the 2017 election.
The first specific study was into ways to improve electricity provision without having to build more power stations (my interpretation). On this one, at least, the NIC is pleased with Government progress.
On interconnectors, progress is being made and should continue. Progress is good on flexible storage and should continue, and the Electricity Act 1989 should be amended. Ofgem should further incentivise network owners to consider storage. Progress is OK on aggregators but needs to keep going with a code of conduct. Progress is good on providing a level playing field for storage and demand flexibility in the capacity market but should keep going. Initial steps have been made on the independence of the system operator, more should be done, as with Distribution Network Operators becoming Distribution System Operators. Finally, forward planning is improving, but more should be done.
TRANSPORT FOR A WORLD CITY
Progress on the second study’s recommendations, on transport in London and in particular Crossrail 2, is not so good. A review into funding and financing is late. The revised London Plan has been published in draft, which is good. £80 million being allocated to Crossrail 2 is good, but the delays in the review may incur more cost. The suggestion of deferring the New Southgate branch does not seem to have been taken up. On funding specifically, again the delay to the review means the NIC is ‘disappointed’. The Government should commit to a timetable and the Mayor should commit to establishing one or more development corporations. Early work on private sector investment is welcomed. The second reading of a Crossrail 2 Hybrid Bill should take place this Parliament (ie by 2022).
HIGH SPEED NORTH
The third study was on improving east-west connectivity in the north of England. Devolution deals are welcomed, but there should also be long-term funding arrangements in place. Like Crossrail 2, the Government should provide a timetable on securing Northern Powerhouse Rail (the project formerly known as HS3) by the end of this year. The NIC welcomes Transport for the North becoming a ‘sub-national [can’t say regional] transport body’ (STB), with associated powers. Short term improvements to improve journey times between Leeds and Manchester are welcomed, progress should be made on longer-term improvements. The highest marks are for integration of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail – ‘an example of best practice’. Progress on improvements at Manchester Piccadilly station are welcomed, as is progress on improvements to the M62, other highway projects and strategic road studies, and this should continue. The agreed initial funding package of £260 million for TfN is welcomed.
The fourth study was into 5G, the fifth generation of mobile technology. The NIC welcomes the ‘strong progress’ the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has made in improving its skills and governance in this area. Progress has been made on trials and research but the Government should do more on commercial models for roadside 5G technology, and the same goes for (rail) trackside technology. Local authority engagement has been good, but Local Enterprise Partnerships should also be directly engaged. Changes to assessing mobile coverage are welcomed, but ‘essential’ and ‘decent’ coverage should be better defined. Network sharing should be considered more to improve mobile coverage. Progress is good on spectrum allocation, and should be completed by the World Radio Conference in 2019.
The report then repeats the recommendations in the last two studies but does not comment on them and goes on to consider the NIC’s 12 priorities.
THE COMMISSION’S 12 PRIORITIES
It is essential that a parliamentary decision is taken on a third runway for Heathrow (ie approval of the draft National Policy Statement) in summer 2018. HS2 is on track, tick. Northern Powerhouse Rail is OK, but the timetable must be stuck to. Crossrail 2 is not OK, the review into funding and financing should be completed as soon as possible. Delays to the Silvertown Tunnel decision are concerning, as is the decision to defer consideration of further river crossings until the effects of that and the Lower Thames Crossing are known. The plan for smart energy systems has been published, tick. The Government did publish its plans for supporting renewable energy to 2025 in the budget, albeit that the plans were not to support renewable energy. The Clean Growth Strategy was published in October, tick. Progress is being made on a replacement for membership of Euratom so as not to slow down new nuclear power stations, albeit there is nothing very concrete. The NIC wanted the Government to publish a Universal Service Obligation for broadband by the end of 2017, but BT preempted this by making its own commitment in July. An auction of broadband spectrum is being held up by a legal challenge by BT and Three. The NIC is disappointed with lack of progress on combating surface water flooding.
So the main things that haven’t happened that the NIC thinks should have are:
- the completion of a review into Crossrail 2 funding and financing and production of a timetable for delivering the project;
a timetable for Northern Powerhouse Rail;
- progress on a surface water flooding strategy.
On the plus side, progress is being made on most of the other fronts, and I think much of it wouldn’t have happened at all had it not been for the NIC making the recommendations in the first place.