British Chambers of Commerce calls for “urgent” government action as it publishes new research ahead of chancellor’s autumn statement

George Osborne

George Osborne

Too many transport infrastructure projects are stuck in the “slow lane”, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has said.

Just days ahead of the chancellor’s autumn statement, the BCC today (Monday) published a map highlighting the “urgent need” for government action on 13 priority projects across the country.

Of 13, three are going ahead, two have some funding committed, but the rest are on hold, the business organisation said.

The BCC first published a map of the 13 projects back in 2010, ahead of the general election (see right).

BCC director of policy, Dr Adam Marshall, said: “Transport infrastructure is critical to business growth but progress on the investment promised by successive governments continues to be too slow.

“Whenever key decisions to improve capacity on the country’s rail, road and air networks are delayed, our businesses and economy are missing out. Even where projects have been given the go-ahead in Westminster, progress is typically slow and in too many cases is mired in the planning stages.

“Ministers must use all the powers at their disposal to kick-start these lay projects. In some cases, that will mean using the government’s balance sheet to unlock private funding, and in others, it will mean using planning powers to overcome objections and speed the process of construction.”

However, transport minister Norman Baker insisted the government is delivering, highlighting High Speed 2, “substantial investment” to increase capacity on the East Coast rail route over the next two years, and £3bn to spend on road schemes.

He said: “Making sure that the country has the transport network it needs to deliver economic growth is a top priority for us.

“We are confident that the approach we are taking will deliver the infrastructure the country needs for business to flourish.”

Business transport priorities: the BCC’s updated research

The BCC has analysed progress on the 13 key schemes using a traffic light rating system:

Green (under construction; firm delivery date for whole project exists)

  • Birmingham Motorway Box, West Midlands: Acting on the successful trial conducted by the Highways Agency, the Department for Transport (DfT) is introducing new methods to allow variable speed limits and use of the hard shoulder at peak times across the M5, M6, M40 and M42. This will free up capacity, and work is due to be completed in Spring 2014.
  • Forth Replacement Bridge, Scotland: A replacement for the deteriorating existing bridge was given the go ahead by the Scottish Government and Transport for Scotland in January 2011 and will be complete by 2016. Upgrades to surrounding roads, will ease congestion and allow higher traffic volumes.
  • Crossrail, London: Though delayed for a year due to complexities, the government is now constructing the railway, which is expected to be fully operational in 2019, improving capacity across the capital.

Amber (some funding committed; planning process underway; no date for final delivery)

  • Northern Hub, North West: A government commitment to the 18 proposed projects that will improve the rail network in the North of England and deliver £4bn of benefits to the North’s economy, was given in July 2012. Planning is still in the very early stages and delivery of all projects is still uncertain, but there have been confident steps forward in recent months.
  • A453 Widening (M1 Junction 24 to A52 Nottingham), East Midlands: Extra lanes will alleviate congestion, allow East Midlands Airport to grow, and create 17,000 local jobs. Construction is due to start in 2013 following a government commitment to the project, but more concrete steps need to be taken to push the project to its conclusion.


Two projects have been delayed / cancelled by the government following the 2010 election:

  • Heathrow Third Runway, National: Currently operating at 99% capacity, the UK’s hub airport needs a new runway to enable airlines to develop new routes and allow UK businesses to take advantage of emerging markets, while encouraging foreign businesses to direct investment and create jobs in Britain. The Coalition Government cancelled the previous government’s go-ahead for this privately-funded project – and the Coalition Agreement between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties effectively rules a third runway out until at least 2015.
  • A14 Ellington to Fen Ditton Scheme, East of England: This vital trunk route for business, linking the East Coast ports with the Midlands and North, needs massive improvements between Ellington and Fen Ditton. The government has recently announced it would commit to improvements, but this was after cancelling the project on taking office, and construction is now not due to start until at least 2018.

The following projects have been on hold due to a lack of funding or planning permission, or are merely ‘under discussion’:

  • M1/Westlink, Northern Ireland: A new flyover would improve capacity between Belfast city centre, port, airport, and the South and West of the province. Despite a public consultation in June 2011, little progress has been made by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Department for Regional Development.
  • M4 Relief Road, Wales: The M4 between Cardiff and Newport is unable to cope with current traffic demands, impacting businesses and the economy across South Wales. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement suggested that improvements would be up for discussion, and a Welsh Assembly Government consultation ended last month. Little progress has been made since 2009, however, when the project was cancelled due to costs.
  • A19, North East: Work on the junctions around the Tyne Tunnel area to handle the increased traffic from the second Tyne Tunnel would help businesses along this crucial economic corridor. Despite the completion of a new £270m Tyne Tunnel in November 2011, the vital schemes to upgrade the junctions around the A19 are still in the early planning stages, with DfT and Highways Agency plans only saying they will be upgraded in due course.
  • East Coast Mainline, Yorkshire & Humber: This key link from the region to London is constrained by a lack of capacity. Though the National Infrastructure Plan suggested some improvements (for example enlargement of Leeds station), the DfT and Network Rail has pushed most of the improvements down the track to 2014-19, and high speed rail is not due to arrive in the region until the 2030s.
  • M20 Operation Stack, South East: A dedicated lorry park would manage increasing traffic to the Port of Dover, and while plans are being considered, Kent County Council are no closer to proposing timescales for delivery.
  • A303/A358 Improvement scheme: Planned measures to reduce the bottlenecks on this route to and from the South West are being reconsidered by the DfT after it had cancelled the project in 2010 due to lack of funding. This is still at an early stage, however, with no details on how the project might be implemented.