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  • Writer's pictureSteven Lynch

Does the East of England have an infrastructure problem?



It is an established fact that investment in vital infrastructure can fuel economic growth. It is also the case that underinvestment in the East of England has had a drag on the region's economy. The East has ambitious goals for infrastructure, but the scale and pace of financing and delivering infrastructure projects - both large and small - is undoubtedly a problem. As a region we are at a critical juncture. Implement a pro-growth plan to supercharge the economy or stagnate and ultimately fall back with increasingly outdated infrastructure.

 

The National Infrastructure Commission, a government advisory board, last October warned in its five-yearly assessment of UK infrastructure that “significant deficiencies” were holding the country back. This included the failure to build a single large water reservoir in England in the past 30 years. Ironically, last week I had the pleasure of attending the Anglian Water conference in which they outlined their business plan to invest £9 billion of essential investment in the East of England. This centred around building two major reservoirs to service the current growth needs of the region, aid the government's energy transition strategy and combat the climate change crisis. However the timeline for development needs accelerating, water scarcity isn’t some distant fear, it’s a present reality.

 

The East has a unique economic geography among English regions. It contains 120 major towns and cities, high agricultural land use but no major urban conurbation or metropolitan centre. Anyone that has lived and worked in the East, knows the desperate need for upgrades to our critical National Infrastructure – from road and rail to water and energy – we must do better.  Future growth is reliant on infrastructure upgrades, here and now. The Eastern Powerhouse has long called for more joined up thinking, the economic opportunities are phenomenal, but we need to make sure that we are linking our housing policy to our energy policy, energy to water and that everything is underpinned by infrastructure. It’s clear, if the UK’s infrastructure is not functioning well, economic growth, innovation, skills, productivity all suffer.


We need to understand why the delivery of large infrastructure projects like High Speed Rail (HS2) have strayed off track (forgive the pun) but most importantly how we can fix it. The UK’s slow and costly planning system is well documented and is rightly identified as part of the problem. But these problems are not insurmountable, and they can be tackled regionally.

 

We launched the Eastern Powerhouse two years ago to highlight these issues and bring pressure to bear on the Government to realise the untapped potential in the East. Since then we have worked tirelessly to set out a clear vision of ambitious growth and investment into the region – starting with joined up thinking and long term planning on infrastructure. We aim to get things done, we don’t want to replicate, we want to amplify – work with our partners, bringing public and private partnerships together. Strategic and coherent arguments to government should help deliver projects like the Anglian Water reservoir in a timely manner, this can allow the region to thrive, supporting economic growth and ultimately meeting the needs of future generations.

 

By the end of 2024 we will have a new government - be it Conservative or Labour, it shouldn’t matter. We need to rise above the politics, stop planning on election cycles and start planning generational cycles. So, for the East to no longer have a problem with infrastructure we need a more strategic approach to infrastructure focused on the economic needs of a unique region and a bold long-term agenda.

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