Upgrades for road, rail and IT take shape

Marion Dakers
THE COALITION’S multi-billion pound plans for sweeping infrastructure upgrades are starting to take shape, with £2bn of pension involvement revealed yesterday and new plans to upgrade London’s transport and technology networks.

George Osborne said British pension funds have pledged the first £2bn towards a new Pension Infrastructure Platform, first trailed in autumn, with more firms waiting in the wings to invest once construction work starts.

But hopes that UK firms will fund the construction sector out of its slump were downplayed by experts. “It looks increasingly likely that building and upgrading the UK’s infrastructure will be funded with money from China pouring into the UK,” said Graham Robinson of Pinsent Masons.

The government itself has also promised to fund new projects, including £130m more for a northern transport hub in Manchester, which brings together improvements on routes to towns across the region.

Osborne also confirmed a scheme – first unveiled by Nick Clegg – for Manchester to be the first city to “earn back” up to £30m a year in tax to spend on infrastructure work.

A new Thames crossing in east London is making progress, Osborne said, with an exemption from planning rules mooted to speed up work.

London will also get £15m to make roads safer for cyclists, and the government is meeting with TfL and the Mayor to explore longer trains and more station capacity for the capital, as part of a five-year national rail upgrade.

The city was also named yesterday as one of ten “super-connected” centres in the UK, with plans to spend £100m on delivering ultrafast broadband to 1.7m households and 200,000 businesses. Ten smaller towns will compete for £50m of similar funding.

But some of the government’s £6bn-worth of infrastructure projects revealed in November have encountered roadblocks. The mooted Oxford to Bicester train route, for example, has been held up by a fresh inquiry, a Treasury update showed.

Widely-expected changes to local planning have been delayed until next week, but Osborne said yesterday the National Policy Planning Framework will be a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” and around 50 pages of rules will replace 1,200 existing pages of regulations.

■ Royal London Docks, Deeside, Irvine, Dundee and Nigg will get capital allowance raises at a cost of £25m this year

■ Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester and Newcastle will share £100m funding

■ Devon and Somerset, Cumbria, Swindon and Wiltshire, Northumberland and Durham and Warwickshire will share £15m in pilot scheme

■ £3bn oil and gas exploration and decommissioning help

■ £130m northern rail hub

■ A14 road upgrade plan due in June

■ Working to electrify railways

■ Plus consultation on longer trains and more capacity

■ £56m Bexhill road upgrade

Development consent for 1 new energy projects since January 2011

£2bn pledged to new Pension Infrastructure Platform

National planning policy framework due next week