Study Asks UK for Infrastructure Investments

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2023


A study from the National Infrastructure Commission in the U.K. has reportedly determined that the country is in need of more funding to renew public transport, home heating, water networks and other infrastructure.

The NIC's Second National Infrastructure Assessment, published Oct. 18, specifies that the funding is needed for changes to improve the U.K.’s energy and transportation systems in order to support economic growth and protect the envioronment.

About the Study

The NIC reportedly conducts its National Infrastructure Assessment every five years. This latest 222-page report, compiled by a panel of infrastructure experts, took two years of work to complete.

The latest study covered topics such as infrastructure improvements needed to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, keeping the U.K.’s core services running and ensuring that businesses can be competitive internationally.

According to a report from The Guardian, the study found that the largest issue is the need for an overhaul of the U.K.'s energy infrastructure to generate more from renewable sources. Additionally, the report sets a goal to ensure a baseload supply from gas-fired power stations equipped with carbon capture and storage technology.

The new investments being called for are reportedly about £30 billion (almost $32 billion) a year from taxpayers and £40 billion (about $42 billion) to £50 billion (about $53 billion) a year from the private sector, and could result in savings to the average household of at least £1,000 a year ($1,057).

Officials reportedly determined that installing heat pumps for most U.K. households, as well as upgrading insulation, would cost around £3.2 billion (almost $3.4 billion) a year and would also be key to fixing the issue.

The study also found that cars and roads may not be enough to keep the transportation system moving, and larger investments in public transport may be needed.

For this, the NIC reportedly made 46 key recommendations, which included:

  • Substantial investment in public transport for England’s biggest cities must be accompanied by restrictions on car access to alleviate congestion;
  • Hydrogen must not be used for home heating, despite government enthusiasm for the technology. Hydrogen should be exploited for use in heavy industry;
  • People on lower incomes should have heat pumps installed free, while the other two-thirds of households should receive subsidies of £7,000 ($7,399) each for their installation. Upgrading homes with high levels of insulation is not needed before installing heat pumps;
  • Water meters should be compulsory for households and businesses;
  • No new waste incinerators should be built, and recycling rates need to improve; and
  • The decision to cancel the northern leg of England's High Speed 2 (HS2) rail line was “deeply disappointing” and “leaves a major gap in the UK’s rail strategy.” Sir John Armitt, chair of the NIC, said it would result in an “overload” of the west coast mainline or encourage more people and freight on to the roads.

The increase in upfront investment could reportedly be quite large, at £30 billion a year of public investment compared with the £20 billion (around $21 billion) a year for the last 10 years. However, the report found that it could cause a decrease in household energy bills, due to lower costs for running renewable energy systems instead of high gas prices.

According to NIC estimates, the average household could save at least £1,000 a year by the mid-2030s if the recommendations are followed.

The report also urged water companies to begin making efforts to cut leaks and invest in new reservoirs and pipelines for the future. A climate breakdown could reportedly bring more droughts and floods, which makes the new infrastructure necessary. The report states that much of it will have to be in the form of “soft flood measures,” like water meadows and allowing wiggle room for rivers, instead of concrete flood barriers.

“The good news is that modern, reliable infrastructure can support economic growth, help tackle climate change and enhance the natural environment,” said Armitt.

“People often talk about infrastructure as the backbone of our economy: what our infrastructure needs now is the collective mettle to turn commitments into action that will reap rewards for decades to come.”

Environmental experts have also weighed in since the report’s release, urging U.K officials to take action without delay in order to save citizens money on their bills in the future.

“The U.K.’s high exposure to volatile fossil fuel markets has fuelled the cost-of-living crisis. The transition to clean electric heat, run on domestic renewables, is the permanent solution to lower bills, cut emissions and boost energy security,” said Juliet Phillips, senior policy adviser at the thinktank E3G.

“Despite this, progress on heat decarbonization has long been the achilles heel of the U.K.’s climate strategy. We urge the government to take heed of the NIC’s unequivocal call to make heat electrification [through heat pumps] a national infrastructure priority.” 

More from the NIC

In April, a report from the NIC suggested that the U.K. government must focus on fewer, bigger targeted initiatives to deliver infrastructure in order to meet its long-term goals for economic growth and lower carbon emissions.

The last year had reportedly seen progress towards major infrastructure objectives “stutter further just as the need for acceleration has heightened,” with the NIC warning that “in a range of areas government is off track to meet its targets and ambitions.”

According to the release, the annual Infrastructure Progress Review highlighted positive progress towards nationwide coverage of gigabit broadband by 2030 and continued growth in renewable electricity—both of which, it noted, had enjoyed a relatively stable policy environment.

However, it also criticized “negligible advances in improving the energy efficiency of homes, the installation of low carbon heating solutions or securing a sustainable balance of water supply and demand,” which were subject to a more short-term and changeable approach in recent years.

For example, the NIC noted that only 55,000 heat pumps were fitted in 2021, compared to the 1.5 million gas boilers that were fitted, despite the goal for at least 600,000 heat pumps to be installed each year by 2028. Looking at electric vehicle charging points, 300,000 points were to be installed by 2030, but only 37,000 public charge points are currently installed.

Proposals from the NIC for “getting back on track” included:

  • Policy staying power to deliver long-term goals and reduce the uncertainty that adds cost for business and delays or deters investment;
  • Fewer, but bigger and better interventions from central government, with tighter strategic focus on the areas where it can make the most difference rather than “expending too much effort on many small-scale funding interventions and repeated consultations, trying to maintain optionality in all areas”;
  • Greater devolution of funding and decision making, moving away from competitive bidding processes and building on the multi-year funding settlements for combined authorities with long-term devolved budgets for all local transport authorities, while also allowing greater revenue raising powers at a local level; and
  • Unblocking delivery barriers, specifically the planning regime for nationally significant infrastructure projects, where updated National Policy Statements for key sectors are the first big step.

The report identified 10 specific priorities for the year, including an acceleration of home energy efficiency improvements and a faster rollout of public electric vehicle charging points.

Additionally, the NIC highlighted the need for government to urgently finalize proposals on water efficiency labelling and new building regulations within the year to help achieve the 110 liters per day consumption target by 2050.

   

Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Energy efficiency; Environmental Control; Environmental Controls; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; Funding; Government; Green Infrastructure; Health & Safety; Infrastructure; Latin America; North America; Program/Project Management; Research; Transportation; Water/Wastewater; Z-Continents

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