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Infrastructure blog

What should the ‘day 1’ infrastructure priorities be for the next UK Parliament?

14 March 2024

With a UK general election due this year, the next government must make bold decisions to accelerate net zero delivery.

What should the ‘day 1’ infrastructure priorities be for the next UK Parliament?
Whoever leads the next government will face some big decisions about infrastructure investment. Image credit: Shutterstock

The next UK Parliament will be critical for the country’s ambition to reach net zero by 2050.

To stay on track, the government has committed to reduce emissions by at least 68% by 2030 from 1990 levels.

By already halving carbon emissions, the UK has made the fastest cuts in the G7.

But the remaining reductions will be much harder to achieve.

The 2030 deadline coincides with the next Parliament. But progress is slowing.

The next government will be responsible for reversing that trend.

Seizing the ‘day 1’ moment

Previous governments have used ‘day 1’ of a new parliamentary term to make bold decisions with long-standing impact.

For example, in 1997, the new Labour government announced it was making the Bank of England independent.

In the case of net zero, there’s no lack of ideas for how to deliver the transition and maximise the benefits.

What’s needed is more strategic clarity, and the urgency and investment to deliver the transformation at pace and scale.

Next Steps panel debate

An online panel debate explored whether the ICE’s ‘day 1’ priorities are the right ones and what else might be needed.

Experts discussed the most important policy areas for achieving net zero, considering their economic viability, carbon impact and wider public benefit.

Watch the event recording

Infrastructure is key to net zero…

Two-thirds of UK emissions come from economic infrastructure.

But whoever leads the next government will face some big decisions about infrastructure investment.

At the recent Budget, the Chancellor confirmed that the next spending review will take place after the general election.

The next government must also implement the next National Infrastructure Strategy.

There’s also the strategic gap in transport connectivity and capacity left by the cancellation of HS2’s northern leg to address.

… and to improving people’s lives

That gap underlines how infrastructure is both the key to net zero and the bedrock of society.

The green transition is a huge opportunity to transform the UK’s physical environment in a way that improves the daily lives of the public.

Indeed, the next UK Parliament also marks the last chance to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by the 2030 target.

By speeding up net zero, the next government can also deliver tangible benefits in many other areas.

Cleaner air, better public transport services and lower household bills are all achievable in the near future – not just by 2050.

What a new government should prioritise

To help bring clarity and urgency to the next government and support policy-makers, the ICE has launched this Next Steps policy programme.

The aim is to identify what the ‘day 1’ infrastructure priorities should be for the new government in addition to the vital infrastructure upgrades the UK urgently needs.

The priorities proposed by the ICE are:

  • Deliver a public engagement strategy emphasising the benefits of the net zero transition;
  • Establish an urban Tram Delivery System;
  • Incentivise increased public transport usage and active travel using fare and regulatory reform;
  • Accelerate freight decarbonisation through targeted rail electrification;
  • Introduce half-hour metering and charging for domestic energy;
  • Ensure sufficient funding to reduce energy demand in social housing; and
  • Accelerate sustainable construction practices.

These measures target some of the highest emitting sectors in the economy.

Crucially, they would be affordable, deliverable and impactful by 2030.

By implementing them the next government could demonstrate positive social and economic impact on people’s lives over the next parliament.

No more delays

The UK cannot afford more years of policy gaps and rollbacks on key commitments.

Falling further behind over the next Parliament isn’t an option.

Doing so would make the net zero transition harder to achieve, more expensive, and provide fewer benefits.

We want to hear from you

Through its Next Steps programmes, the ICE convenes global public debates to discuss what needs to happen next on key policy issues affecting civil engineering and society.

The briefing paper launched below provides an initial starting point for discussion.

Read the briefing paper

Watch the event recording

The ICE wants to hear views from across the sector on what the ‘day 1’ infrastructure priorities should be for the next UK Parliament.

Please contact [email protected] to share your views.

  • David McNaught, policy manager at ICE