Labour’s infrastructure revolution – powering growth and change

In this general election campaign Labour want to talk about growth and change. A lot. Key to turning the rhetoric into reality is a policy area that ties both growth and change together – infrastructure.  

The Labour manifesto outlines an ambitious plan to rebuild Britain, with infrastructure investment at the heart of its strategy for economic growth and decarbonisation. The party has committed to a set of new national policy statements, with the aim of getting infrastructure projects through planning faster, making the process less expensive and ensuring benefits are delivered locally as well as nationally.  

The manifesto’s emphasis on modernising the UK’s infrastructure aligns with the recommendations put forward by the review led by Shadow Cabinet member Darren Jones, and the report on a new model for national infrastructure planning published by the Tony Blair Institute last summer. Both signal the importance of addressing the systemic issues that lead to long and expensive delays to Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), while also trailing the areas a new Labour Government would be likely to prioritise.  

A long-term infrastructure plan

Remember George Osborne’s ‘Long term economic plan’? Long term plans are back on the agenda. In this manifesto, Labour is laying the foundations they hope to build upon for a sustained period in government. As such, the party is hoping to give certainty to investment through the launch of a 10-year infrastructure strategy to help “guide investment plans and give the private sector certainty about the project pipeline”. This strategy will align with Labour’s industrial and regional development priorities, including improving rail connectivity across the north of England.  

Labour also plans to create a new National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority to oversee the design, scope, and delivery of infrastructure projects. This centralised approach aims to streamline project management and address delivery challenges in collaboration with businesses. 

Great British Energy

At the centre of Labour’s infrastructure agenda is the creation of Great British Energy (GBE), a new publicly owned clean energy company. GBE would partner with industry and trade unions to deliver clean power by co-investing in leading technologies, supporting capital-intensive projects, and deploying local energy production to benefit communities nationwide. This move would accelerate investment in energy grid modernisation and expansion. The UK’s grid would need to see massive growth to keep up with increasing demand to get power from new wind, solar and hydropower sources across the country to your kettle and TV. 

A green superpower

The manifesto sets out a central mission to make Britain a clean energy superpower by 2030, committing to work with the private sector to dramatically increase renewable energy capacity. This includes doubling onshore wind, tripling solar power, and quadrupling offshore wind, as well as investing in carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, and marine energy. These ambitious targets would create new opportunities for renewable energy developers and investors, but there have been questions as to whether the energy grid expansion mentioned above would be able to keep up.

Going nuclear

In the nuclear sector, Labour has pledged to support the long-term security of the industry by extending the lifetime of existing plants, ensuring the completion of Hinkley Point C, and backing the development of new nuclear power stations like Sizewell C and Small Modular Reactors. This commitment could provide a boost for nuclear developers that have become wearied by the need to navigate complex challenges in planning and project financing.  

Regulating water

Beyond energy, the manifesto focuses on water companies and water infrastructure in the popular context of environmental protection and investment. The manifesto highlights that not a single reservoir has been built in the last 30 years, implying a lack of investment which it is committed to addressing through the development of a series of new reservoirs. 

The party has also committed to putting failing water companies under special measures to clean up water pollution, which has become a high-profile issue in recent years. Citing weakened regulation as allowing water companies to pollute coasts, rivers, and lakes through illegal sewage dumping, Labour plans to give regulators new powers to hold water companies to account.  

Digital infrastructure is national infrastructure

The UK lags behind the US, Japan and EU in 5G sites per capita and does not rank in the top 15 countries for 5G speeds. 5G infrastructure is essential for enabling innovations like smart energy grids, advanced manufacturing and virtual reality. It is also important to the development of AI which requires large amounts of power and data, and which is a rapidly growing sector seen by many policy makers as a route to economic growth.  

In this context, Labour is committed to delivering a nationwide full-fibre broadband network and 5G coverage, reflecting the Tony Blair Institute’s recommendation to update the definition of nationally significant infrastructure to include digital communications. Labour acknowledges that the UK has been falling behind other countries in this area and pledges to fulfil the ambition of full gigabit and national 5G coverage by 2050. 

Popular policies on roads and rail

Finally, Labour has promised to overhaul Britain’s railways by bringing them into public ownership as contracts with existing operators expire. This move intends to put passengers at the heart of the service and ensure reliable, affordable, high-quality, and efficient rail services. They have also committed to fix an additional one million potholes across England in each year of the next parliament, funded by deferring the A27 bypass in West Sussex, which has been deemed poor value for money. Both policies will be popular throughout the country among a public that has grown frustrated with crumbling public transport infrastructure, particularly outside London.

What does this mean for the UK?

If Labour are to grow the economy, they know a key driver to make change will be infrastructure. The bold vision outlined in their manifesto will require certainty, stability and long term planning to attract the significant private sector investment that will help fund growth and change. Labour knows the positive impact investment and delivery clean energy, utilities, digital, roads and rail will be felt across the country. As such, this is a manifesto with an eye not just on the next parliament, but on the next election too.