Industry leaders welcomed announcements made in the Autumn budget yesterday but said chancellor Philip Hammond’s plan did not go far enough.
The response has been generally positive, but many made it clear there is still much more to do. The government’s support of a National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) report into the potential of the East West Corridor connecting Oxford and Cambridge was well recieved.
NIC chairman Lord Adonis said the measures in the budget were a positive step ”but they should be the start of a longer-term concerted effort to enhance our infrastructure network, which can help boost economic growth and support communities across the country.”
WSP director Adrian Hames said it was “great to see the government promptly respond” to the report, and Civil Engineering Contractors Association director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said it “particularly welcome[s] the backing of the NIC’s report”.
Part of the East West corridor funding - the exact figure is yet to be announced - is to accelerate the delivery of East West Rail. It will help deliver the connection between Oxford to Bedford, and from Aylesbury to Milton Keynes by 2024. Hammond also announced a newly-formed company of local partners will explore how to accelerate the delivery of the connection between Bedford and Cambridge, with the aim of opening the link in the mid-2020s, while programmes of work will start on developing plans for new Cambridge South and Cowley train stations.
England’s Economic Heartland Strategic Alliance chairman Martin Tett said he was pleased with the government’s committment to the project.
“East West Rail and the Oxford-Cambridge expressway are vital pieces of infrastructure to support transformational economic and housing growth in this region,” said Tett. ”We are pleased to see the Chancellor’s funding announcement for the next stage of East West Rail and his support for seeing the project delivered all the way to Cambridge.”
Ramboll managing director Matthew Riley criticised the current and previous governments for underinvestment and said “this is not a budget to be proud of.”
“Whilst the chancellor may feel pleased with his stimulus to technology and housing, this government must be judged on results,” he said, “we have run out of time for endless reviews where nothing happens, we need real leadership to deliver 300,000 homes a year.
“This government’s track record is not promising – they seem unable to make a decision on additional runway capacity in the South East and growing rail requirements across England and Wales. Ultimately, this investment is too little and will constrain productivity in the UK.”
Support for the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine projects was repeated in Hammond’s speech, and he outlined plans for the £1.7bn Transforming Cities Fund. The investment was announced on Monday but Hammond set out how the money will be divided in his speech. Each of the six regions with metro mayors will divide half of the pot, with the remainder available for other cities to bid on.
Tees Valley Conservative mayor Ben Houchen said: “Whilst other areas will have to go cap in hand to Government and complete tedious applications for a slice of the pie, the Tees Valley will receive a ring-fenced pot.” He also welcomed a £123M investment in the South Tees Development Corporation on the former Redcar steelworks site.
There was some disappointment there wasn’t more on a Construction Sector Deal other than the government saying it was working towards one in budget related documents.
Turner & Townsend UK infrastructure managing director Patricia Moore said: “The Chancellor has trailed an announcement on a construction sector deal. To meet the challenges facing our sector, it is now essential that this is brought forward as soon as possible through the emerging Industrial Strategy.
“This would be a major vote of confidence for the sector and provide a significant catalyst for change. Construction has struggled to reinvent itself and improve performance because of its fragmented supply chains, coupled with its highly cyclical nature and low margins.”
There was little on Crossrail 2, Hammond simply said the government was “continuing to work with TfL on the funding and financing of Crossrail 2.”
This was unsurprisingly met with disappointment. Aecom’s director of government John Hicks said: “Whilst briefly mentioning Crossrail 2, it’s disappointing that the chancellor did not take the opportunity to continue to confirm the government’s commitment to this much needed infrastructure project, nor did he provide any new news on the expansion of Heathrow Airport. There was also a distinct lack of dialogue on defence and the energy sector, where clarity on energy pricing and Hinckley Point C, in particular would have no doubt been welcomed by industry.”’
CECA’s Hemming agreed: “We are disappointed that there is not more news on the Crossrail 2 talks, and we will continue to work with government and TfL to help unlock this world-class project to generate much needed capacity across the South East.”