Freshwater’s Public Affairs team summarises what the Conservative General Election manifesto means for the transport and infrastructure sectors.
Yesterday (14 April), the Conservative Party released its 2015 General Election Manifesto. In a departure from the ‘Long Term Economic Plan’ campaign, the party chose to use it as a shopping list of spending commitments. Below are some of the commitments of particular relevance to those who operate in the transport and infrastructure sectors.
Efforts to spread growth across the regions of England are a significant driver of policy commitments in the manifesto, for example its first page re-states the now well-known plan to build a “Northern Powerhouse”. The rail policy commitments in the manifesto generally adhere to this context of stimulating regional growth.
The Conservatives unsurprisingly reiterated their £50 billion commitment to build High Speed 2, and also to develop High Speed 3, the (so-called) ‘high speed’ east-west rail route joining cities across the north of England.
Aside from this, the Conservatives promise £38 billion of investment in rail infrastructure from 2015 to 2019, focussing on delivering more electrified line. The Conservatives also commit to pushing ahead with plans for Crossrail 2, the link connecting Surrey and Hertfordshire through central London.
In terms of regional development of the rail network, the Conservatives highlighted the electrification of the Midland Main Line from London to Sheffield, the improvement of rail connections from London to Norwich and Ipswich and the electrification of the Great Western Main Line, the latter having previously been announced in the Chancellor’s 2015 Budget.
With regards to rail users, the Conservatives repeated their recent pledge to freeze regulated rail fares for the length of the Parliament, in line with Retail Price Inflation (RPI). However, this may not be as quite a good deal as it sounds - RPI shows consistently higher rates of inflation than the official and more statistically sound measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index (CPI). So while increases in regulated fares (around 45% of all fares) may not exceed RPI they can still rise in real terms.
The Conservatives also pledge the introduction of more smart ticketing and part-time season tickets, and would require train companies to improve compensation arrangements for delays. They also draw attention to their commitment to rolling out Wi-Fi on trains and in stations - again, an announcement recycled from the last Budget and already reflected in recent franchising extensions for First Great Western and First TransPennine Express, as well as in the specification for the next round of north of England franchises in 2016.The Conservatives’ policy commitments on rail are therefore largely just re-statements of things that are already happening.
Work on the Great Western Main Line, for example, is already underway and of course construction began on Crossrail in 2009 and is scheduled to finish in 2017 regardless of the next government. However, on passenger rights, the introduction of more smart ticketing, part-time season tickets and the improvement of compensation arrangements, will be welcomed by consumer groups and passengers.
Many of the manifesto commitments to rail improvements are coupled with improvements to roads. For example, the Midlands will see improvements to the M1 and M6, the South West to the M5, A358, A30 and A303, and East Anglia to the A11 and A47. This is part of the Conservatives’ £15 billion commitment to investment in roads to add 1,300 extra lane miles and improve over 60 problem junctions. However, as with the rail announcements, many of these road improvements have already been announced long in advance.
Along with transport pledges to help rebalance the economy, the Conservatives used their manifesto to re-state their support for mayors in metropolitan regions and the devolution of local budgets. A Conservative government would, as has already been announced, legislate to devolve powers and budgets to Manchester, and create a directly elected Mayor for Greater Manchester. In Cambridgeshire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire East a trial would allow these local councils to retain all the proceeds from any growth in business rates.
The Conservatives also pledge to deliver more Growth Deals developed in partnership with local councils and to devolve further powers to the Mayor of London.
On housing, the Conservatives pledge to build 200,000 starter homes, which would be sold at a 20 per cent discount to first time buyers under the age of 40. They also offer 10,000 new homes to rent at below market rates. At the same time, they have promised to extend the Right to Buy to tenants in Housing Association properties, which would extend the right to as many as 500,000 people. Local authorities would be required to sell their most expensive properties to fund the replacement of properties sold under Right to Buy.
The Conservatives would also create a Brownfield Fund to help fund building on Brownfield sites. A Right to Build would be established, which would require councils to allocate land to local people to build or commission their own home.
Public subsidies for onshore wind farms would be ended by a Conservative government, and local communities would be given the final say on any windfarm applications through changes to the law.
On digital infrastructure, the Conservatives pledge to deliver superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2017, and subsidise the cost of installing satellite services in the hardest to reach areas.
There was not much new policy included in the Conservatives’ manifesto as far as transport and infrastructure is concerned. On rail in particular, the manifesto mainly listed current railway investment projects and attempt to pass them off as new policy.
But the main headline-stealing announcement was on housing, with the extension of Right to Buy to include Housing Association tenants, allowing as many as 500,000 people to buy their own homes at a significant discount. Observers will have to wait for more details about how the promise to replace all sold homes would be achieved.
For more 2015 General Election news and comment, see Freshwater’s Hub.
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