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Armitt: Government’s infrastructure strategy can’t stop at HS2

Ministers should take their “golden moment of opportunity” to make firm decisions on developing sustainable infrastructure beyond HS2, the Chair of the government’s independent infrastructure Commission has said.

Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, told MPs and Peers that existing projects which pass environmental and financial muster should be accelerated as part of the government’s forthcoming National Infrastructure Strategy, as “levelling up cannot happen without some digging up”.

Armitt welcomed this week’s announcement on the high-speed link and the Commission’s role in reviewing wider regional rail connectivity as “a sensible way forward”, reflecting his call for sound decision-making when it comes to major infrastructure projects.

He called for greater devolution of powers and funding to city leaders to maximise the benefits of reduced strain on other rail lines once HS2 opens, to reduce road congestion and enable options for reducing carbon emissions.

Arguing that infrastructure is about more than “big and shiny national projects”, Armitt highlighted previous Commission calls for government to implement a national flood resilience standard, and to accelerate work to identify options for replacing natural gas as the dominant fuel for heating the UK’s homes and businesses.

Armitt acknowledged to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure that “recent months have not offered the best environment for making sound decisions on significant long-term spending commitments”. He called for the government’s National Infrastructure Strategy – due to be published alongside the Budget next month – to reset the dial, describing the forthcoming announcement as “a golden moment of opportunity for government to chart an ambitious but deliverable plan.”

Sir John pointed to the Commission’s National Infrastructure Assessment of July 2018, to which the government’s strategy will form an official response. “After more than 18 months of delay, we hope the stage is now set for a truly transformative strategy that will prove worth the wait,” he said.

Armitt also reiterated the Commission’s four tests for the National Infrastructure Strategy: that it must look beyond immediate political cycles and set out broad policy up to 2050; that it must be backed up with a specific plan, with clear deadlines and identified owners in government; that it is resourced by a firm funding commitment of at least 1.2 per cent of GDP a year; and that it reflects a genuine commitment to transformational change.

The full text of Sir John’s speech is available here.

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