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National Infrastructure Plan 'shopping list' lacks focus

The government should focus on a few key projects rather than its 600 scheme National Infrastructure Plan “shopping list”, according to Labour’s shadow infrastructure minister Andrew Adonis.

Speaking at a post-Budget event this morning at Edelman, Lord Adonis said: “A plan with 600 priorities is not a plan. It is a shopping list at the moment. What we need to do is concentrate on a small number of really important priority projects and really push them through. One [project] has to be expanding airport capacity in the south east it is our major airport, our major trading route.”

He also argued that politics needed to be removed from the planning of major infrastructure and said more needed to be done to “unlock the means for the private sector to pay for infrastructure” including user charges.

Lord Adonis was responding to a question by Balfour Beatty Construction Services UK chief executive Nick Pollard who called on the government to “release the uncertainty around major infrastructure projects” including HS2, nuclear power and utilities.

Skills minister Matthew Hancock said the NIP was “the most structured approached to infrastructure that government has had in a long time”.

He added: “There is inherent difficulty with projects that take longer than a parliament [term]. You do need cross-party support to have certainty all the way through. It is probably right we have debate about them and about value for money and it is absolutely right they should be under democratic control. Some uncertainty is something we have to live with in return for having this great thing, democracy.”

But Anne Richards, chief investment officer for Aberdeen Asset Management, said companies such as manufacturers, oil companies and utilities were being put off investing in infrastructure by “political expedience”.

She said: “If you contemplate, as a business, putting in infrastructure that will take 5 to ten years to generate a return, but you are working in a political framework which, in order to generate a vote or headline in the short term, can knock you back, I think it is very clearly deterring some sectors from putting investment on the ground and that is something government could help with more than it does at the moment.”

But she said this private sector infrastructure was distinct from government-led projects for which “there are challenges about it, they move slowly but hopefully in right direction”.

Lord Adonis also emphasised that the huge gap between the level of housebuilding – which he said is at its lowest peacetime levels since the 1920s – and the pace of household formation had reached “crisis point” in London and the south east.

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