My Evening Standard article on John Armitt’s infrastructure review

A year on, we can be proud of the success of London 2012. The Olympics showed that Britain can decide on, and then deliver major building projects when there is cross-party consensus and a sense of national purpose. But that isn’t always the case when it comes to big infrastructure projects.

For decades, successive governments have all too often ducked and delayed the vital decisions we need to take for the long term. That’s why last autumn I asked the man who led the successful delivery of the Olympic venues and infrastructure to come up with a plan to help end this dither and drift.

Sir John Armitt’s report today sets out a clear blueprint for how we can better identify, plan and deliver infrastructure for future generations. Because there can be no doubt that we need to act.

Only yesterday Britain fell from 24th to 28th in the world for the quality of its infrastructure in a global league table. And official figures show that only seven out of 576 projects in the Government’s infrastructure pipeline have been completed — 80 per cent haven’t even started construction.

This isn’t good enough. After three damaging years of flatlining we need to act to secure the economic recovery: investing in our future transport, energy and housing needs can create jobs now and strengthen our economy for the long term. That’s why I have backed the IMF’s call for a £10 billion infrastructure boost this year, which could build 400,000 affordable homes.

But governments also need to grasp the nettle when it comes to making difficult long-term decisions. As Mayor, Ken Livingstone did finally convince the last Labour government of the case for building Crossrail, which we secured funding for.

On the other hand, what we do about airport capacity in London and the South-East is a classic example of a decision that has been ducked and delayed for far too long. I welcome the review by Sir Howard Davies, which is trying to find an evidence-based way forward. But the Government has kicked the can down the road and said the final report should not be published until after the election. Labour is clear this delay is regrettable, because the longer we postpone these decisions, the more damage will be done to our economy.

So Sir John Armitt says today that we need an independent National Infrastructure Commission — appointed on a cross-party basis — to identify our long-term infrastructure needs and monitor plans developed by governments to meet them. Parliament would, of course, have the final say, but the commission will help ensure decisions cannot be kicked into the long grass.

And as the Armitt review says, value for money is vital when it comes to big infrastructure projects. That’s why I have said that, while Labour supports a new north-south rail line, the soaring costs of High Speed 2 under this government are concerning: there can be no blank cheque from a Labour Treasury.

Armitt has set out an excellent report. Now the Government should help end decades of drift and delay by working with us to make it a reality. The Olympics showed Britain can deliver. We need the same drive and spirit for the next 30 years. That way we won’t let future generations down.

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Posted September 5th, 2013 by Ed