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Britain’s £0.5 trillion infrastructure upgrade

20171031_Britain’s £0.5 trillion infrastructure upgrade

Britain is building. Nuclear power stations, ultrafast broadband, refurbished schools, upgraded roads…

There are more than 700 infrastructure projects and programmes currently underway across the country or due to start over the next few years. Collectively, they’re worth just over £0.5 trillion

Some of these, such as the school refurbishments, are government programmes funded by the Treasury. Others, such as the new nuclear plants, are private projects being undertaken by various corporations or consortia. All are being overseen by the Government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority, and tracked in its annual ‘National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline’ reports.

So where is all this investment going? Which parts of the economy are benefiting from it the most? The graph below shows the latest figures, breaking down that £0.5 trillion of spending by sector.

As you can see, the energy sector is receiving the biggest share of infrastructure investment. However, £128 billion of its £206 billion won’t be spent until 2021 or later – including £64 billion marked down for generic electricity generation and £38 billion for three new nuclear power stations: Hinkley Point C in Somerset, Wylfa B in Anglesey and Moorside in Cumbria.

The transport pipeline

Transport is next up, with 251 projects in the pipeline worth a total of £138 billion. Our second graph shows how this breaks down:

The new High Speed 2 rail line is the country’s largest single infrastructure project. Phase One of the line received parliamentary approval back in February, and key construction contracts have now been signed. Services between London and Birmingham are due to begin in 2026, before being extended to Crewe in 2027 and to Manchester and Leeds in 2033. HS2 is being funded by public money, and is expected to cost £55 billion in total.

Other rail spending mostly consists of Network Rail’s maintenance, renewal and enhancement programmes, including upgrading the East Coast and Great Western mainlines to take new electric and hybrid Intercity Express trains. There’s also £3.8 billion still to be spent completing the Crossrail line through London, with services due to start next year. 

Most of the £13 billion being spent by Transport for London will go towards upgrading the Tube network, but there’s also £3.5 billion to be spent on the capital’s roads, including implementing the forthcoming Ultra Low Emission Zone.

Upgrading Britain’s roads

Then there’s £23 billion on road improvements outside of London – split in the above graph between the £13 billion being spent by Highways England on the country’s motorways and A-roads, and the £10 billion being spent by councils on the local roads for which they’re responsible. Highways England’s biggest current project by far is upgrading the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, which began this year and is set to cost around £1.5 billion.

In his Autumn Statement last year, Chancellor Philip Hammond established a new £23 billion ‘National Productivity Investment Fund’, with £1.1 billion to be spent improving local roads and £220 million tackling key pinch-points on strategic roads by 2021. In March, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced how £107 million of that £220 million will be spent, including widening the A69 to create an unbroken stretch of dual carriageway between Hexham and Newcastle, adding a new junction on the M11 near Harlow, and £20 million worth of improvements to the M5 between Bristol and Taunton.

Outside of the energy and transport sectors, some of the largest projects in the pipeline are the roll-out of smart meters (£6.3 billion), BT’s Digital Investment programme in ultrafast broadband and 4G (£5.7 billion), and a new sewage tunnel along the Thames (£2.9 billion). 

More to come?

According to the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, 360 of these 729 projects and programmes are due to be completed by 2021 – but plenty of new ones will no doubt have entered the pipeline by then. These may include a third runway at Heathrow Airport, which the Government approved last year and plans to put to a vote in Parliament in the coming months, and the proposed HS3 rail line across the north of England. George Osborne gave this the go-ahead in his final Budget as Chancellor last year, but so far only £60 million has been committed to the planning stage.

And, of course, we’re waiting to see whether Hammond announces any big new projects in his Autumn Budget next month. Some of his Cabinet colleagues are urging him to borrow more to invest in the nation’s infrastructure, especially housing. If he does so, the pipeline will swell even further.

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