The resignation of Lord Adonis as Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission on the 29th December 2017 has seen a fair amount of press coverage over the last week. The focus has been on his comments regarding Brexit and the Conservative-Labour relationship, which Lord Adonis cited as a reason for his resignation, stating that his “work at the Commission has become increasingly clouded by disagreement with the Government”, and that “Brexit is causing a nervous breakdown across Whitehall”.
However, Lord Adonis (who is a former Labour Transport Secretary), criticised Conservative Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, saying “I would have been obliged to resign from the Commission at this point anyway because of the Transport Secretary's indefensible decision to bail-out the Stagecoach/Virgin East Coast rail franchise”.
The Government has stated that this move, which was reported on the 29th November 2017, is not a bailout, although it is set to cost hundreds of millions of pounds. However, Lord Adonis fears that the cost could be in the billions if other rail companies making a loss demand the same treatment.
His criticism and subsequent resignation comes amidst average fare increases of 3.4% across the UK, with Lord Adonis going so far as to note that ‘bailouts’ only benefit billionaire owners and their shareholders, push up the price of train tickets for the consumer, and threaten investment in national infrastructure.
What could Lord Adonis’ predictions mean for London’s Built Environment?
The Draft London Plan places a key focus on building and development around transport hubs in London. The problem is, the increase in commuter fares could further price people out of these already pricey areas, and could add to London’s affordable housing crisis.
Whilst Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has frozen fares in London covered by the Mayor’s remit, this does not include travelcards or weekly caps, which are set in agreement with private train operating companies, or increased in line with RPI inflation (3.6% in July 2017) if no agreement is made. According to the London Assembly website, “by January 2018, the overall increase in Travelcard fares will be more than 5.5 per cent”.
Furthermore, fare increases and reduced investment in transport infrastructure could have environmental implications. In the news this week, we have seen people turning to private transport over public transport in response to fare increases. With an average 29.8% of Londoners already commuting to work by car, the increase in fares, and investment problems predicted by Lord Adonis, could see more people turning towards alternative transportation. The knock-on effect of this is not just environmental, but could also place an added pressure on parking in the capital.
Whether or not Lord Adonis’ predictions come true, 2018 looks set to be a key year for transport and infrastructure. As HS2 continues through its phases of development, and with the Elizabeth Line service expected to open in 2018, rail infrastructure looks to remain a crucial policy area going forward.