The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has raised concerns about the government’s failure to firm up timetables or funding plans for Crossrail 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
In a highly critical annual monitoring report, the NIC said there had been a “disappointing lack of pace in several areas”.
In June last year, the commission published a list of 12 key projects which needed urgent government action. These included a third runway at Heathrow Airport, High Speed 3 – linking major northern cities from Liverpool to Newcastle and Hull, Crossrail 2 and the eastern crossings across the Thames.
NIC chairman Sir John Armitt said it was “hugely disappointing” that after two years, the commission’s reports on Crossrail 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, still had not been followed up by commitment from government.
“The government still has not firmly committed to a timetable for funding or got a clear plan for delivering either of these nationally significant projects,” he said. “It is vital that decisions on both schemes are made this year and that the government commits to the long-term vision that supports the recommendations we made.
“It is also important that the government does not lose sight of more immediate priorities. It is imperative that a parliamentary vote on the expansion of Heathrow takes place no later than this summer. Any further delay would be irreconcilable with the government’s commitment to deliver the infrastructure the country needs.”
On Crossrail 2, the commission said the government’s call for an independent review of funding and financing risked delaying the planned 2033 opening date.
“To minimise this risk, it will be important that both the government and Transport for London (TfL) engage actively with the independent review so that an agreed and stable position may be reached in a timely fashion,” the report states.
It urged the government to set out a firm timetable and funding proposal by the end of 2018. This it said should enable the introduction of a hybrid Bill later this parliament allowing the line to open in the early to mid-2030s.
The report also highlighted poor mobile telephone coverage of the UK’s major roads and railways and pointed out that plans for deploying 5G infrastructure – needed for the roll out of autonomous vehicle technology – had failed to progress beyond trials.
The NIC also criticised the lack of an agreed plan between the government and northern local authorities for the redevelopment of Manchester Piccadilly station to increase capacity and for the wider Northern Powerhouse Rail network, despite government support for improved connectivity in the north of England
Despite the lack of progress on some aspects the commission said it was “pleased” to see significant funding announced in the last Budget to improve infrastructure and housing delivery in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc.
The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (Ceca) backed the commission’s call for immediate action on major infrastructure projects.
Ceca chief executive Alasdair Reisner said: “Infrastructure in the UK has for too long suffered from a lack of long-term strategy and delays to nationally-significant projects.
“The National Infrastructure Commission is an invaluable body that provides impartial advice to government on the nation’s long-term infrastructure needs. It is vital that its recommendations are heeded and steps are taken to enable our sector to deliver the schemes it identifies.
“The government’s failure to commit to a range of projects, such as the third runway at Heathrow, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, Crossrail 2, and Northern Powerhouse Rail, is holding back the potential of the UK economy.
“Ceca calls on the government to commit to projects outlined in the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan. Moreover it must to work to develop projects to add to this pipeline, which will create jobs and secure future economic growth.”