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Coalition needs to back promises with action

The coalition government’s steps towards putting infrastructure at the heart of the UK’s recovery “will not make much of a dent” if they are not translated into cash and action, the ICE said last week.

Speaking on the anniversary of the coalition government’s formation, ICE director general Tom Foulkes said that there had been positive plans made, but that the government should now focus on “clear actions”.

Welcoming ministers’ decision not to scrap Infrastructure UK and the creation of last autumn’s National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), Foulkes said “it is clear to us that the government recognises the importance of continued investment in our infrastructure.”

Despite this, Foulkes was critical of many areas of the government’s response to infrastructure issues.

Lack of roads cash

He said that the £200M the government has allocated to repair roads “will not make much of a dent […] or equate to much” when spread across local authorities struggling to repair the 2M potholes created last winter. The repair bill is estimated to be £10.7bn.

Boosting infrastructure capacity remains high on the ICE’s list of priorities. The government’s continued opposition to additional runway capacity in south east England is “disappointing”, Foulkes said.

He warned that road congestion was “set to remain a problem”. He also expressed fears about the impact on projects of the government’s localism agenda.

“Concerns remain on the implications of the government’s localism agenda on larger than local projects” (See flooding story below). It is thought that the moves could see local authorities struggling to cooperate under new ‘duty to collaborate’ imperatives when working together on large projects.

Green bank needs borrowing power

The Green Investment Bank (GIB) has the potential to provide a core funding stream for future infrastructure projects, said Foulkes, but said it was “crucial” for the GIB to remain a bank “with powers to borrow, not a fund.”

He also expressed concern that students could be put off engineering degrees following the recent news that most universities teaching civils courses planned to bump tuition fees up to £9,000 a year.

He said that government should be “ready to take action if take-up falls, especially for Masters engineering programmes which are the benchmark standard for chartered engineers across Europe.”

Foulkes’ comments on the coalition’s infrastructure policies come as the government’s original NIP, published last year, is being revised with a new version due to be published by the end of 2011.

He said that the second edition of the NIP will be an “ideal vehicle” for prioritising the decarbonisation of the energy industry, which he said will be one of the coalition’s “biggest challenges”.

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