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The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI) chair, Andrew Jones MP, outlines what he believes will be the key focus this year.
The first day back in Parliament after Christmas always has a sense of expectation about it. What will happen and what are the problem issues for the year ahead? It can be risky looking ahead, but I will anyway.
The course of the pandemic has been far from smooth and it is not yet over, so this comes with a hefty degree of caution.
This is the year when more schemes have to move from plans and promises to delivery. That is certainly what colleagues will be looking for.
Everyone knows that the development of a scheme involves enormous amounts of planning work, but the UK has a record of planning and re-planning, sometimes announcing and re-announcing, but not moving swiftly to delivery and completion.
I remember as roads minister just a few years ago opening a scheme which had first appeared in its county plan in the reign of George VI!
One of the benefits claimed for the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) is that it will allow quicker delivery. It is asking too much for delivery to be within months of an announcement, but it shows where the government is going.
There is a desire to achieve progress, and for a number of reasons too: levelling up our regions and communities, a focus on economic growth post pandemic and building on COP26.
The pressure to deliver will be high, but where may that pressure be felt the strongest? I suggest the regions where the levelling up need is greatest will be receiving priority. I recognise that is more of a geographic and demographic answer than type of infrastructure or mode of transport.
It is the more local projects that are being talked about in Parliament rather than the giant national schemes.
Opening Beeching lines is very popular, but sometimes more with local members than policy makers. This is to be expected and reflects the role of MPs as local champions.
Looking ahead, expect more on this.
In transport terms, the bus sector is receiving significantly more interest than some years ago. The promise of new buses, and zero emissions ones too, went down very well. Colleagues loved it and are looking to see big numbers enter service. Not perhaps a key part of the APPG for Infrastructure work, but worth noting from a colleague priority and transport perspective.
There will be some cross-cutting areas where progress must be made.
The current energy price issues will drive to the fore questions on how we grow our generating capacity, but there is no quick answer to that question.
Power system infrastructure - electricity generation, micro generation, hydrogen, interconnectors, carbon capture, and so on, plus their costs of course – will be at the heart of policy questions for months.
And over the last few years, have we really made the necessary progress? Even asking the question suggests the answer.
Transport accounted for around 30% of carbon emissions pre-pandemic, and no progress cutting this will mean bigger national targets are missed.
I am expecting to see the growth of electric vehicles sales accelerate strongly. The sales figures show it’s already happening, but that means demand for more charging infrastructure will feature, too.
So this year will be about delivery.
I have talked above about local projects and where parliamentary pressure and interest will be, but I am keen to see HS2 progress and Crossrail finally open.
It looks like spring this year for Crossrail, and while their progress reports are correctly hesitant about final dates for passenger services, the news looks good. I was lucky enough to visit it during construction some years ago and even then, it was clear to me that it will be fantastic. I think passengers will love it.
The focus on delivery will be strong, from both government and Parliament. Looking across the sector, supply chains and workforces are under pressure and while nobody can predict exactly how the pandemic will go, I feel confident enough to suggest those pressures will be overcome.
Looking at the APPGI, we have a good programme of events and speakers and, hopefully this year too, some visits to key projects. I hope you will be able to join us.