Thursday, 27 June 2013

Carrots among the cuts: government plans to improve North West infrastructure

Although critics of the Coalition government and its latest Spending Review-inspired cuts, announced yesterday, have plenty to raise concern at, today saw news of a number of infrastructure projects that could boost the North West economy. Some salve, at least, to an otherwise otherwise appalling vision for the future public services and local government.

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Danny Alexander announced that among several infrastructure projects intended to ensure the "British economy can succeed in the global race by creating balanced growth and delivering lasting prosperity," among them is further electrification of the West Coast Main Line, as part of continued rail improvements.

"Network Rail is conducting a feasibility study into electrifying the Lakes line between Oxenholme and Windermere," he stated, while also announcing an obscene increase to the rich man (or woman)'s railway project HS2 and a further £2 million for London's Crossrail project.

While he did not identify the M6 Link to Heysham specifically - it go ahead currently set for a legal challenge - Mr Alexander said the government would "deliver all the major projects in the Highways Agency’s pipeline, as well as increasing the amount spent on road repairs across the country - good news, hopefully, for anyone, driver or cyclist, who has suffered an accident or damage caused by potholes.

"We will add two lanes to the busiest motorways, bringing another 221 lane miles to our road network, and we will tackle some of the most congested parts of our network, through projects such as the £1.5 billion A14 scheme between Huntingdon and Cambridge."

He also announced more road building: the A19 between Newcastle and South Shields, the A63 in Hull, the M6 junctions between Birmingham and Manchester, the M5 junctions from Bromsgrove to Worcester, the A38 Derby junctions, the M1 junction near Long Eaton and south of Rugby, the A21 between Tonbridge and Pembury, junctions on the M4, the M23 Gatwick junctions and the A27 Chichester bypass.

Also announced:

•  A further £250 million to ensure that fixed superfast broadband reaches 95% of the population by 2017. "We will work closely with industry to ensure that at least 99% of the UK population have access to superfast broadband, said Mr Alexander, "whether fixed, wireless or 4G - by 2018." This could be good news for Lancaster's rural areas, which has taken its own initiative with the B4RN project

• Further investment in low-carbon technologies, and a Green Investment Bank to back green energy projects. "This country has massive potential in wind, wave and tidal. We need to harness it. We are putting in place a comprehensive energy policy through the Energy Bill that is in front of this House. This is an approach that we know will work for consumers and investors alike."

• Bad News: a continued belief in shale gas, no doubt helped news that the British Geological Survey has identified some 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas could be drilled —double the previous estimate — which "confirms its huge potential for the UK"

The statement was welcomed by many MPs, but immediately criticised by Labour's Chris Leslie who described it as "hot air". 

"Haven’t we heard it all before?" he challenged. "Plenty of empty promises. But I must ask; when will the Government pull their finger out and actually start to build some of these things?

"The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has been sent out with this long-winded statement to talk and talk and talk about infrastructure investment, but all the evidence shows that the Government are failing to deliver."

Read Mr Alexander's full "investing in Britain's Future" statement

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