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Government’s infrastructure strategy says technology is key

The strategy aims to put innovation and technology at ‘the heart’ of its approach to transforming the country, as government launches new national infrastructure bank

The government has published a national infrastructure strategy, to boost economic growth and help the country recover from the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

It is also launching a UK infrastructure bank, which will be located in the North of England and allow government to “co-invest alongside private sector in infrastructure projects”.

“The new bank will operate within a mandate set by government and have a high degree of operational independence. It will be a world-class, expert institution. The bank will play an important role in supporting new infrastructure technologies,” the strategy said.

The strategy added that each infrastructure sector is likely to face “transformative technological change” over the next 20 years, and the government wants the UK to be at the forefront of this.

Its vision is for the UK to be a place where communities will be brought together because “broadband connectivity will be better”, and have low-carbon and energy efficient homes, as well as for the UK to be “a world leader in new technologies, including wind power, hydrogen production carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, electric vehicles and zero-emission planes”.

It said that although the pandemic has introduced a huge short-term disruption likely to have a long-term effect, the UK still needs to invest in digital, transport and utilities networks to underpin economic recovery and growth.

The strategy was announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak during his Spending Review speech on 25 November, where he pledged £100bn in funding for infrastructure.

Connecting the nation

The government is also working towards a target of having 85% of “gigabit capable coverage” by 2025, but now aims to accelerate that to get as close to 100% as possible.

“The UK is a nation that thrives on digital connectivity, with some of the highest rates of digital adoption in the world. The UK has the fifth largest number of broadband and mobile subscriptions in the OECD, and more people in the UK shop online than in any EU member state,” the strategy said.

“Never has this been more important than as the country deals with the impact of Covid-19, when digital infrastructure has enabled home working, home learning, and kept families in touch with each other in extraordinary circumstances. Digital infrastructure is particularly important for the UK’s rural communities in all four nations.

“Greater connectivity can help rural businesses innovate, grow, and create jobs. In doing so, it can help rural areas attract and retain young people and families, supporting thriving rural societies.

“Gigabit-capable broadband, such as full fibre, can provide speeds of over 1,000Mbps, over forty times faster than standard superfast broadband and fast enough to download an HD film in seconds. These speeds provide new opportunities across the UK, for consumers and businesses alike, and enable 5G technology.”

It added that the total level of investment required is around £30bn, and it is also investing £500m, which is being matched by the industry, to deliver “high-quality 4G mobile coverage from at least one operator across 95% of the UK by 2025, through the Shared Rural Network”.

Green and clean

The government is also investing in green and clean technology and infrastructure. This includes up to £525m being invested into advanced nuclear technologies and £1bn to support the creation of carbon capture and storage.

“In many cases, the solutions needed are known and action needs to be taken immediately. Further progress will be made by accelerating the deployment of existing technology in the near-term, such as increasing wind generation or driving retrofit in the UK’s building stock,” the strategy said. “For other areas, new technologies and skills will need to be developed to continue decarbonising.”

The government is also pumping £20m into enabling a UK network of technology demonstrations in alternative marine fuels and green shipbuilding.

It is also launching a cost benchmarking hub and data platform to be used across sectors to ensure “project assumptions are realistic and achievable at the outset”.

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