The UK government has outlined a new national infrastructure plan that now proposes over £375 billion (€451 billion) of public and private investment.

The plan sets out investments in energy, transport, flood defence, waste, water and communications infrastructure up to 2030 and beyond. It includes the development of a new nuclear power station in North Wales, a further £50 million (€60 million) for the redevelopment of the railway station at Gatwick Airport and improvements to the country’s road network.

In addition, the government said a UK guarantee had now been agreed for the £1 billion (€1.2 billion) London Underground Northern Line rail extension, while a new long-term plan for flood defences was also being developed.

The UK government also plans to scale up the sale of public assets and said it was considering selling its shareholding in Eurostar, the rail service connecting the UK to France via the Channel Tunnel.

Insurance companies also announced plans to invest £25 billion (€30.1 billion) over the next five years in national infrastructure projects.

Scepticism

However, while the plans were welcomed by industry, they were also met with scepticism from some commentators.

Katja Hall, chief policy director at the Confederation of British Industry, said, “It’s encouraging to see more detail on the timescales and financing of national infrastructure projects, but this still feels like a very long and hopeful Christmas list, rather than a true set of priorities.

“While this plan may look good on paper, now we urgently need to see action on the ground.”

And Murray Rowden, managing director of infrastructure at construction consultancy Turner & Townsend, said, "There can be no more false dawns. This spending plan must deliver.

"The first National Infrastructure Plan was widely recognised as little more than a long wish-list of projects, with few details on how they would be paid for. This plan seems different.”

Rowden highlighted the investment from the insurance companies as a key achievement. “As public sector investment in infrastructure has waned, the private sector has stepped up to the plate. It now accounts for 70% of infrastructure spend and that trend bodes well for the future.

“On paper, the infrastructure sector should be an appealing prospect for these big institutional investors, with its potential for long-term, stable returns. But it's crucial that the government creates the funding models and stability needed to keep the private capital flowing.”

Meanwhile, head of UK policy at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Jeremy Blackburn echoed the feeling that the investment from the insurance companies demonstrated growing confidence in the infrastructure sector.

Lacking momentum


“What is still lacking is real momentum to get these projects moving, even with the £25 billion (€30.1 billion) included. It has taken three years of plans to reach a programme. Let’s now get on with this – and secure a balanced recovery across all the regions, not just some,” said Blackburn.

Accountancy and business advisory company Deloitte also responded called for more clarity on the details of the plan. Head of infrastructure Nick Prior said the funding was welcome but a much clearer sight was needed of where this money would actually be spent.

“The government guarantees scheme is making a difference. This has been the most impactful announcement on infrastructure to date. But, the reality is, little of this money will be spent this side of 2015, so we won’t see shovels in the ground on new projects for some time.”

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