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Election policies: Proof is in the over-egged pudding

All elections ultimately come down to a choice between continuity and change. On transport infrastructure, what London and other English cities need from the next government is ‘continuity plus’. So how do the manifestos measure up?

In aviation, the story is one of welcome consistency. Having spent the years since 2010 rebuilding UK aviation policy, the Conservatives’ eventual backing for Heathrow expansion shows they are now keen to see the job through.

Labour’s position is more nuanced – pro-expansion, without being clear exactly where, while backing the Airports Commission. So exactly the sort of fudge you use if you back Heathrow but want to leave some wriggle room for marginal seat campaigning around the airport. The Liberal Democrats meanwhile remain unconvinced of the benefits of aviation growth.

So Heathrow expansion will proceed – and hopefully apace if the construction sector can come forward with some clever ways of delivering it better and cheaper than current plans. But we remain none the wiser as to the next government’s appetite to expand other airports – in the South-east and beyond. Making this broader case for growth to whichever party wins the election remains a crucial task for business and construction.

The big question

For wider transport investment there’s a similar tale of continuity. All of the parties throw their weight behind the current investment programme – which is good news for High Speed 2 and committed road and rail investments.

The big question is whether the next government is willing to go further and commit to the next generation of schemes being promoted by cities and business groups.

“We must make swifter progress in translating what remains a broad concept into an identifiable and deliverable scheme”

Labour and the Lib Dems are both behind new schemes, including Crossrail 2. However, the absence of an explicit endorsement of Crossrail 2 in the Conservative manifesto was disappointing. The more general commitment to “focus on creating extra capacity on the railways, which will ease overcrowding, bring new lines and stations, and improve existing routes” offered some reassurance.

Lost in translation?

Labour perhaps over-egged its pudding by backing a new Brighton Main Line, a scheme for which Network Rail and DfT recently concluded there to be no case. The Conservatives were more cautious in making new commitments at this stage, though they did namecheck Northern Powerhouse Rail, thereby emphasising their determination to invest across the whole country.

Step-change improvement in northern rail links should be supported, but I was struck that Labour referred to Crossrail of the North while the Lib Dems talked about HS3. We really must make swifter progress in translating what remains a broad concept into an identifiable and deliverable scheme. Regional politicians, businesses and transport bodies have a vital role to play here.

Overall, business can take encouragement from the direction of travel – but we’re not there yet. Getting Britain Brexit-ready requires us to secure firm commitments from government to those projects that will generate jobs and future growth.

We still have work to do.

David Leam is infrastructure director at London First

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