Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced the formation of an Acceleration Unit – a team of specialists that will join the Department for Transport (DfT) in order to tackle delays to infrastructure projects and drive forward progress for passengers.
This is to speed up delivery of vital rail and road upgrades, creating jobs, increasing connectivity and boosting the economy.
The unit is set to be in place next month and will be directly accountable to the Transport Secretary. It will be led by Darren Shirley, currently chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport and formerly of Which? Magazine. He has also worked for the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace, so he certainly brings an independent view to the problems of accelerating major infrastructure projects.
Alongside the Acceleration Unit, the Transport Secretary also announced funding for a number of upgrades to Wales’ railway.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “As Britain begins to get moving once again after four months of lockdown, no-one should underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead.
“We want to accelerate Britain’s recovery by investing in vital infrastructure that will help get businesses back on their feet, create jobs to replace those that have been lost and level up our country.”
“The creation of our new Acceleration Unit and investment in our roads and railways will ensure we build back better, greener and faster in the future.”
Darren Shirley, the newly appointed head of the Acceleration Unit, said: “I am delighted to take on this important new role, bringing a fresh perspective and external advice to accelerate the delivery of key infrastructure projects and programmes.
“The breadth and depth of expertise in my new team will stand us in a good stead as we look to deliver the schemes that will help the country to rebuild faster through decarbonising the transport system and levelling up Britain as we emerge from the Coronavirus crisis.”
The Acceleration Unit will engage experts with significant experience in delivering infrastructure projects. These will include Highways England’s director of complex infrastructure projects, Chris Taylor, who oversaw the construction of the £1.5 billion A14 scheme, which was not only delivered on budget but eight months ahead of schedule, and Mark Reynolds, chief executive of Mace, which oversaw the construction of the Nightingale hospital in East London in nine days.
Mace also partnered with Network Rail in the reconstruction of Birmingham New Street station and has recently been appointed to project manage the construction of the new Brent Cross West Thameslink station.
The creation of the team follows the establishment of a new Northern Transport Acceleration Council, dedicated to swiftly levelling up infrastructure across the North’s towns and cities, forming a direct link between Westminster and local leaders.
The Transport Secretary also unveiled a number of further road and rail investments, including:
- £1.1 million investment for Network Rail to develop short-term plans to relieve overcrowding at London Liverpool Street station;
- Funding to complete the £6.4 million scheme to build a new second footbridge serving all four platforms at St Albans City station, easing congestion and addressing safety issues at an increasingly busy station, with work due to start early 2021 and be complete by January 2022;
- £4 million to develop the design phase for gauge enhancement and track improvements for freight trains on the Great Western and Midland main lines and at Darlington, to allow longer intermodal freight trains to operate from Teesport to Yorkshire, with the Darlington scheme to be delivered by October 2020;
- £9.74 million for signalling and infrastructure enhancements delivered on the Wessex route at Twickenham, Bracknell and Virginia Water as part of the Feltham and Wokingham Signalling Renewal Programme, which will help improve the reliability and flexibility of services starting from Easter 2021.
Reacting to the news of the DfT’s creation of this Acceleration Unit, Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “It is positive news that the government has set up a new unit to accelerate transport projects. Speeding up rail projects is a clear way in which the government can spur green economic growth, jobs and investment around the UK, following the economic slowdown caused by the Coronavirus outbreak.
“The Railway Industry Association and our members look forward to working with this new Unit, particularly to speed up the 58 rail enhancement projects the Government has direct control of, as our ‘Speed Up Rail Enhancements’ campaign has been calling for.
“Through government and industry working together, we can support the UK’s economic recovery, whilst delivering a decarbonised, more efficient transport network for the whole of the UK.”
Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions for the Rail Delivery Group added: “Putting investment in rail on the fast track is good news for communities and businesses across Britain. Rail companies will continue to work together to deliver vital improvements to make our railway greener and support job creation.”