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BCC: Time to kick transport projects into high gear

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) today published a map highlighting the urgent need for action on a range of transport projects needed to boost business growth across the UK.

The assessment shows progress on 13 priority transport projects – one business-critical investment in each region and nation, from a map first published by the BCC ahead of the 2010 General Election. While the government has taken important steps to boost infrastructure funding and delivery since the first budget, the updated assessment shows that too many transport projects, which are crucial to business growth, are stuck in the slow lane.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Adam Marshall, Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

“Transport infrastructure is critical to business growth but progress on the investment promised by successive governments continues to be too slow. Whenever key decisions to improve capacity on the country’s rail, road and air networks are delayed, our businesses and economy are missing out. Even where projects have been given the go-ahead in Westminster, progress is typically slow and in too many cases is mired in the planning stages.

“We need bold action from the government to improve the UK’s transport infrastructure. This kind of investment is insulated from global uncertainty, and it creates short-term confidence, jobs in the medium term, and improves the UK’s competitiveness in the long term. Ministers must use all the powers at their disposal to kick-start these lay projects. In some cases, that will mean using the government’s balance sheet to unlock private funding, and in others, it will mean using planning powers to overcome objections and speed the process of construction. We are confident now that ministers understand the need for infrastructure investment. We’re not yet confident that their welcome commitment is translating into action on the ground.”

Business transport priorities: updated BCC research

Using a traffic light rating system to analyse progress on the 13 business-critical projects proposed by the UK Chamber Network in 2010, the government and devolved administrations together scored 3 greens, 2 ambers, and 8 reds.

 

Green (under construction; firm delivery date for whole project exists)

  • · Birmingham Motorway Box, West Midlands: Acting on the successful trial conducted by the Highways Agency, the Department for Transport (DfT) is introducing new methods to allow variable speed limits and use of the hard shoulder at peak times across the M5, M6, M40 and M42. This will free up capacity, and work is due to be completed in Spring 2014.
  • · Forth Replacement Bridge, Scotland: A replacement for the deteriorating existing bridge was given the go ahead by the Scottish Government and Transport for Scotland in January 2011 and will be complete by 2016. Upgrades to surrounding roads, will ease congestion and allow higher traffic volumes.
  • · Crossrail, London: Though delayed for a year due to complexities, the government is now constructing the railway, which is expected to be fully operational in 2019, improving capacity across the capital.

 

Amber (some funding committed; planning process underway; no date for final delivery)

  • · Northern Hub, North West: A government commitment to the 18 proposed projects that will improve the rail network in the North of England and deliver £4bn of benefits to the North’s economy, was given in July 2012. Planning is still in the very early stages and delivery of all projects is still uncertain, but there have been confident steps forward in recent months.
  • · A453 Widening (M1 Junction 24 to A52 Nottingham), East Midlands: Extra lanes will alleviate congestion, allow East Midlands Airport to grow, and create 17,000 local jobs. Construction is due to start in 2013 following a government commitment to the project, but more concrete steps need to be taken to push the project to its conclusion.

 

Red

Two projects have been delayed / cancelled by the government following the 2010 election:

 

  • · Heathrow Third Runway, National: Currently operating at 99% capacity, the UK’s hub airport needs a new runway to enable airlines to develop new routes and allow UK businesses to take advantage of emerging markets, while encouraging foreign businesses to direct investment and create jobs in Britain. The Coalition Government cancelled the previous government’s go-ahead for this privately-funded project – and the Coalition Agreement between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties effectively rules a third runway out until at least 2015.
  • · A14 Ellington to Fen Ditton Scheme, East of England: This vital trunk route for business, linking the East Coast ports with the Midlands and North, needs massive improvements between Ellington and Fen Ditton. The government has recently announced it would commit to improvements, but this was after cancelling the project on taking office, and construction is now not due to start until at least 2018.

 

The following projects have been on hold due to a lack of funding or planning permission, or are merely ‘under discussion’:

 

  • · M1/Westlink, Northern Ireland: A new flyover would improve capacity between Belfast city centre, port, airport, and the South and West of the province. Despite a public consultation in June 2011, little progress has been made by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Department for Regional Development.
  • · M4 Relief Road, Wales: The M4 between Cardiff and Newport is unable to cope with current traffic demands, impacting businesses and the economy across South Wales. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement suggested that improvements would be up for discussion, and a Welsh Assembly Government consultation ended last month. Little progress has been made since 2009, however, when the project was cancelled due to costs.
  • · A19, North East: Work on the junctions around the Tyne Tunnel area to handle the increased traffic from the second Tyne Tunnel would help businesses along this crucial economic corridor. Despite the completion of a new £270m Tyne Tunnel in November 2011, the vital schemes to upgrade the junctions around the A19 are still in the early planning stages, with DfT and Highways Agency plans only saying they will be upgraded in due course.
  • · East Coast Mainline, Yorkshire & Humber: This key link from the region to London is constrained by a lack of capacity. Though the National Infrastructure Plan suggested some improvements (for example enlargement of Leeds station), the DfT and Network Rail has pushed most of the improvements down the track to 2014-19, and high speed rail is not due to arrive in the region until the 2030s.
  • · M20 Operation Stack, South East: A dedicated lorry park would manage increasing traffic to the Port of Dover, and while plans are being considered, Kent County Council are no closer to proposing timescales for delivery.
  • · A303/A358 Improvement scheme: Planned measures to reduce the bottlenecks on this route to and from the South West are being reconsidered by the DfT after it had cancelled the project in 2010 due to lack of funding. This is still at an early stage, however, with no details on how the project might be implemented.