Out-Law News 1 min. read

Autumn budget 2021: UK government ‘must commit to challenging rail projects’

The UK government has committed £35 billion of funding to rail projects over the next four years as part of a focus on connectivity, announced in the autumn budget.

However, the government had to make sure it was able to deliver on the necessary infrastructure upgrades, said projects expert Jonathan Hart of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.  

Chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak announced the £35bn settlement with the Department of Transport in the autumn budget on Wednesday. The funding included investment in the High Speed 2 (HS2) project, as well as upgrades to railway infrastructure across the country with a focus on the midlands and the north.

Another £5.7bn over three years will be spent on maintaining existing rail services, and the budget includes additional funding for other regional railway schemes.

Sunak told Parliament the government would soon publish an ‘integrated rail plan’ aimed at improving journey times between towns and cities.

However, Hart said investment in rail was beset by other challenges and the government had to prioritise rail to ensure projects completed.

“Major rail projects that form the backbone of the government’s levelling up agenda including HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and East West Rail are at risk of being significantly delayed, over budget or even drastically scaled back as exemplified by rumours on the removal of the eastern leg of HS2 Phase 2,” Hart said.

“The cost of steel is now 75% higher than it was 12 months ago and with Network Rail purchasing 97% of the steel produced by British Steel, these transport projects that have been designed to close the gap on regional disparities across the UK, are going to become increasingly challenging,” Hart said.

“If the government is serious about progressing its levelling up and build back better ambitions, it is going to need to remain clear-sighted in relation to the cost-benefit analyses of these projects and prioritise its ‘Project Speed’ initiative intended to shorten the time required for these important rail upgrades to be consented and approved,” Hart said.


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