Infrastructure strategy becomes levelling up strategy


The Government has denied that ‘levelling up’ the rest of the UK means ‘levelling London down' as it published the long-awaited National Infrastructure Strategy, which confirms that plans for Crossrail 2 have been shelved.

The strategy is a response to the National Infrastructure Assessment, which was published by the independent but non-statutory National Infrastructure Commission in July 2018.

In line with similar publications, the new document mainly comprises a round-up of existing spending commitments, although it does include a one-off commitment to fund the North Hykeham relief road in Lincolnshire.

In the foreword, prime minister Boris Johnson writes: ‘Levelling up is my government’s core purpose.’

He adds: ‘In the period covered by this strategy, we will significantly shift spending to the regions and nations of the UK.’

Mr Johnson writes: ‘In public transport, all but one of the major new capital projects in the next few years will be outside the south-east. Northern Powerhouse Rail will connect Leeds and Manchester, and we will help make bus and rail networks in those and other city regions as good as Greater London’s.’

However, his observation that ‘on our major A roads and motorways, two-thirds of our upgrades are outside south-eastern England’ serves to emphasise that a third of such works will be in that corner of the country.

The document states: ‘Levelling up the rest of the UK does not mean levelling London down. The Government is continuing to address capacity issues in the capital, by financing the completion of Crossrail, but has agreed that Transport for London will stop development on Crossrail 2.’

It adds: ‘This frees up investment to raise the performance of public transport networks in the regional cities towards London’s gold standard.’

It is not clear whether the reference to ‘financing the completion of’ the existing Crossrail scheme represents a new commitment to provide the long-delayed project, whose costs have now risen beyond the existing funding envelope. Transport Network has approached the Department for Transport for comment.

Lincolnshire CC has been allocated £110m towards building the North Hykeham Relief Road.

The strategy also sets out the logic of significant changes to the Treasury Green Book - following a review - in an attempt to refocus spending decisions away from prosperous areas.

It states: ‘A central finding of the review is that the appraisal process often fails to properly consider how a proposal will deliver the government’s policy ambitions, including levelling up. This leads to appraisals being focused on a benefit cost ratio (BCR) that does not reflect social policy objectives or give ministers the information they need about where costs and benefits fall.

'HM Treasury has therefore updated the Green Book to end the dominance of the BCR is [sic] decision making, starting with this Spending Review.

'Appraisals must give a comprehensive picture of cost and benefits, including non-monetisable, non-economic impacts. In particular, options will be assessed first and foremost on whether they deliver relevant policy objectives (for instance, the regeneration of a particular place). Any option which fails to do so cannot be considered value for money and will not progress to shortlisting stage.’

NIC chair Sir John Armitt said: ‘We are pleased to see the Government’s strategy responds closely to our own independent assessment of the country’s infrastructure needs and how to address them.

‘The Commission will monitor government’s progress on delivery and very much hope this strategy marks the beginning of a renewed focus on long-term infrastructure policy around which industry and investors can plan with confidence.’

Barry White, chief executive of Transport for the North, the country’s only statutory sub-national transport body, said the strategy ‘chimes entirely with our priorities for the North – closing the economic divide; fast-tracking delivery of strategic projects; and slashing carbon emissions as quickly as possible’.

However, he added: ‘The projects outlined are a good start, but there’s a lot of detail on rail in the North still to come with the forthcoming Integrated Rail Plan, which we await with interest.’

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