UK needs long-term infrastructure strategy to face population growth

5 September 2013
By Tereza Pultarova
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Sir John Armitt, the Olympic Delivery Authority chairman, said the UK needs a long-term infrastructure strategy to face future challenges including climate change and population growth

Sir John Armitt, the Olympic Delivery Authority chairman, said the UK needs a long-term infrastructure strategy to face future challenges including climate change and population growth

The UK needs a national infrastructure strategy for the next 25 to 30 years to be prepared for future challenges including climate change and population growth, says a new report commissioned by the Labour Party.

Compiled by Sir John Armitt, the Olympic Delivery Authority chairman, the report states the lack of long-term strategic planning and the inability of governments to make decisions on major infrastructure projects could affect future energy policy, airport capacity, road and rail schemes and water projects.

"The Office for National Statistics, for example, forecasts UK population will grow to over 73 million people by 2035,” the report states.

"However, there is little evidence that governments are planning for the infrastructure we will need by then to support another 10 million people."

The report recommends establishing an independent National Infrastructure Commission to identify UK’s long-term infrastructure needs and oversee the plans and developments addressing them with special focus on energy, transport, water, waste, flood defences and telecommunications.

The commission, appointed by the government and opposition parties, would secure the continuity of projects that are frequently disrupted due to the short-lived nature of governments.

"Over the last 40 years, UK infrastructure has fallen behind the rest of the world and is increasingly struggling to cope with the demands we make of it,” Sir John said.

"An infrastructure fit for the future must now be a national priority alongside education and health and a new independent National Infrastructure Commission is a way of delivering this improvement with the vital support of the public and politicians of all parties."

In the recent Global Competitiveness report published in May by the World Economic Forum, the UK ranked the 28th in the quality of infrastructure, falling behind most of its developed world peers and fast-growing economies like China and South Korea.

However, Sir John said he believed UK’s recent experience with the 2012 Olympics prove the country is capable of planning and delivering complex and innovative infrastructure projects with local and national cross-party support.

"We did it right for the Games and now we need to apply the lessons we've learned to other areas and services we need to improve to cope with the challenges ahead,” he said.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who has commissioned the report together with the Labour leader Ed Miliband, said: "For decades, successive governments have all too often ducked and delayed the vital decisions we need to make on Britain's long-term infrastructure.

"This excellent report sets out a clear blueprint for how we can better identify, plan and deliver our infrastructure needs.

"The Olympics showed what can be done when there is cross-party consensus and a sense of national purpose."

However, treasury minister David Gauke described the report as an "epitaph to Labour's failure over 13 years to address the infrastructure challenges Britain faces".

"All Ed Miliband and Ed Balls offer Britain is the same old Labour spending, borrowing and debt that got us into the mess in the first place,” Gauke said. “And it's hardworking people who would pay the price through higher taxes, higher mortgage rates and higher bills."

Chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport Stephen Joseph appreciated the report, saying the next government shall take these proposals seriously.

"We need to get past knee-jerk demands for ever more concrete and instead plan for a smarter, more efficient economy,” he said.

The Institute for Public Policy Research said “the independent National Infrastructure Commission proposed by Sir John would represent a significant improvement on current arrangements."

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