The strong economic foundations our country needs depend on good quality infrastructure. People here in Poplar and Limehouse want access to good housing, affordable energy, fast broadband and mobile connections and a transport system that provides connections to jobs, opportunities and friends and family. This infrastructure is vital for our economy and our quality of life.
The UK faces huge infrastructure challenges over the next few decades. Our population is set to rise to 73 million in 20 years, there is a chronic shortage of affordable homes and our energy, road and rail networks are struggling to cope. But the Government’s Infrastructure Bill, which MPs debated at Report Stage on Monday 26 January 2015, was wasted opportunity. Crammed full of piecemeal measures it was not what our country needs to face the future with confidence.
The Tories didn’t even want to give Parliament the time to discuss it properly. It is a sign of their approach to infrastructure that they gave a Bill containing reforms on roads, fracking, energy, housing, property searches and planning for community pubs just a few hours of debate on Monday. Thankfully Labour’s Shadow Transport, Environment and Climate Change, and Local Government teams used that time to push for badly needed improvements.
With eight of ten homes still reliant on gas for heating, shale gas may have a role in improving our energy supply and reducing carbon emissions in the future. But I know many people in Poplar and Limehouse have serious concerns about the environmental and safety implications of fracking. Labour have always said that shale gas development cannot go ahead unless there is a robust regulatory regime in place. But the Tories and Lib Dems repeatedly ignored people’s genuine and legitimate concerns over shale gas and seemed prepared to plough on at any cost.
So Monday’s vote on fracking regulation was a huge u-turn by the Government and a huge victory for Britain’s environment. Thanks to Labour’s amendment shale gas developments will now be prevented unless the proper safeguards are implemented. And it will be banned outright in national parks and other protected areas.
Labour also ensured the Government backed down from half-baked reforms to mobile communications infrastructure, got a commitment to increase apprenticeships and training in the construction sector, and helped secure a legal obligation to support walking and cycling in the future too.
But the Government’s Bill goes nowhere near to delivering the infrastructure we so badly need. The Tories have presided over the UK’s lowest housebuilding levels since the 1920s but failed to back our proposals to free up more land for development. Their Bill has watered down the commitment to reduce carbon emissions in new homes and failed to address urgent air pollution problems caused by road traffic. Our roads face a pothole epidemic but this Government think a top-down reorganisation of the Highways Agency is more important than fixing Britain’s broken roads.
There is a gulf between the Tories rhetoric on infrastructure and their record. A Labour Government will build 200,000 homes year by 2020 and decarbonise our power sector by 2030. As recommended by the Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority Sir John Armitt we would set up a National Infrastructure Commission to better plan and deliver the transport, housing and energy schemes for people in Poplar and Limehouse in line with our climate change targets. Labour will deliver the long-term approach to infrastructure that the UK so badly needs.