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Lord Adonis: Politics shouldn’t get in the way of progress

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Lord Andrew Adonis praised what he described as a ‘railway that fundamentally works’, addressing the Institute of Railway Operators’ (IRO) annual member’s lunch last month, while acknowledging some of the challenges still to overcome.

The Labour peer talked about the image problem Southern has created for private railway operators and how the current political climate could make it difficult to deliver the kind of nation-changing infrastructure projects that he has spent much of his career pushing for. HS2 will change the economic geography of the UK but had the hybrid bill come through parliament in five years time it may not have received the same backing, he believes.

A few days later, Lord Adonis, who is the chairman of the independent National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), issued a statement urging that the government not allow Brexit and a hung parliament to delay major infrastructure projects like HS2 and Crossrail 2. The latter’s exclusion from the Queen’s Speech raised some eyebrows. The NIC published a list of 12 priority projects that it believes the government needs to progress over the next 12 months. Railway projects listed included Crossrail 2, HS2 and the so-called HS3 link – billed by some as Crossrail for the North.

‘Britain’s historic weakness has been to underinvest in infrastructure, and to adopt a stop:go approach even where decisions are taken in principle,’ said Lord Adonis. Nothing symbolises this more than the long-running saga of Heathrow Airport. A third runway was agreed in principle 14 years ago but there has still not been a firm decision to proceed.

‘There’s no point saying Britain is open to the world if you can’t get to and from the rest of the world because Heathrow is full.’

The statement included comments made by Lord Adonis during a speech he delivered to the Institution of Civil Engineers on 29 June.

He said, ’Brexit and the hung parliament must not lead to dither and delay on the key infrastructure challenges facing the country. We need to press on with decisions on Heathrow, HS2 to the North of England, new electricity generating capacity, and radical improvements to digital communications, to underpin jobs and economic growth.

‘Rapid progress in the next year on these top 12 major projects and priorities is an acid test of the Government’s commitment to the ‘jobs first Brexit’ which the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, argued for recently.

‘All of these have been agreed in principle, but require decisive action to get them moving in the new parliament. They ought to be at the top of ministers’ in-trays, and they ought not to linger there a day more than necessary.’

The announcement included the timetables that the NIC hopes the government will stick to. This includes introducing the hybrid bill for Phase 2a of HS2 and the final route for Phase 2b by the end of July, publishing a detailed integrated plan for HS3 by the end of the year and producing a funding/construction plan for Crossrail 2 by the end of 2017.