Prime Minister Boris Johnson today set out his vision to build back better from coronavirus (COVID-19) by boosting transport connectivity across and between the entire United Kingdom, as part of ambitions to level up across the country.
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The government will also consult on cutting Air Passenger Duty (APD) on internal UK flights and will commit £20 million to develop plans for upgraded rail, road, sea and air links.
The measures were announced following the interim report of Sir Peter Hendy’s union connectivity review, published today. In June, Sir Peter Hendy CBE was tasked by the Prime Minister with exploring ways in which transport can better connect all parts of the United Kingdom.
Sir Peter Hendy’s report sets out how a UK Strategic Transport Network would help deliver this ambition. Such a network would significantly expand and upgrade direct transport connections in the UK across road, rail, sea and air, helping to reduce delays and bottlenecks and stimulate economic growth. Improving rail links helps cut carbon emissions and so, as well as considering how transport links can better connect the UK, the Prime Minister will consider their environmental and social impact – taking into account how they will improve the quality of life of the people that use them.
The potential network will now form the main focus of Sir Peter’s continuing investigations, with his final report in the summer looking to identify specific transport upgrades that could form the backbone of the network’s ambitions.
To jump-start some of the projects identified by Sir Peter, the government has today committed £20 million towards exploring the development of key projects.
The Government is also announcing that the consultation on aviation tax reform, announced at Budget 2020, will be published in spring 2021.
The consultation will include options to change the APD treatment for domestic flights, such as reintroducing a return leg exemption or creation of a new lower domestic rate.
In addition to looking at the case for increasing the number of international distance bands, we will continue to decarbonise domestic aviation as part of our ambition to reach net zero, including through mandating the use of sustainable aviation fuels. All domestic aviation emissions are captured in carbon budgets.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "It’s now time to build back better in a way that brings every corner of the UK closer together. We will harness the incredible power of infrastructure to level up parts of our country that have too long been left off the transport map.
"This pioneering review by Sir Peter Hendy gives us the tools we need to deliver on our ambitions for a UK-wide transport network that encompasses sea, rail and road – and I also want to cut passenger duty on domestic flights so we can support connectivity across the country."
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "As we build back better from COVID-19, it is more important than ever that we level up every corner of our great country.
"High-quality transport infrastructure is key to achieving that, which is why we are committed to boosting connectivity and bringing communities across the UK even closer together."
The government will work closely with devolved administrations on development studies. For example, the UK government will work closely with the Scottish Government on any feasibility study on the A75.
Sir Peter has spoken with over 100 organisations and received nearly 150 submissions to his call for evidence. As a result, he has been able to identify some of the most pressing issues involved in connecting all parts of the UK.
Sir Peter Hendy CBE said: "Devolution has been good for transport, but it has also led to a lack of attention to connectivity between the four nations, due to competing priorities and complex funding.
"A UK Strategic Transport Network could resolve this, with its core objective centred around levelling up across the whole of the UK."
The government will receive the final union connectivity review recommendations ahead of the Spending Review, where it will consider and confirm funding plans for delivering improved connectivity across the UK.
The review into boosting the transport options connecting the UK sits squarely at the centre of the government’s levelling up agenda, with focus on providing high-quality transport infrastructure to communities that have been passed over for investment in previous decades a key pillar of the plans.
While the review looks to the future, the government continues to support current union connectivity measures and recently provided a further £4.3 million to fund a two-year extension to the vital flight route between City of Derry Airport and London Stansted – beginning on 1 April 2021 – which will boost local economies on both sides.
As the Government confirmed that a consultation on aviation tax reform announced in the 2020 Budget is to be published in Spring 2021 and will include options to reduce Air Passenger Duty on domestic flights, the Interim Report of the Government’s Union Connectivity Review highlighted the importance of sustainable aviation fuels to achieving net zero aviation.
ADS Chief Executive Paul Everitt said: “The Government’s support for the rollout of sustainable aviation fuels as a key strand of our industry’s strategy for achieving net zero flight will deliver economic and environmental benefits.
“Delivering large scale sustainable aviation fuels for UK flights demands substantial investment to develop the technology and infrastructure required.
“Extending and increasing joint investment by Government and industry in the next generation of aerospace technology would support our Jet Zero ambitions and position the UK as a global leader in delivering green aviation.”
Responding to the Secretary of State for Transport’s comments on sustainable aviation fuels this morning, Sustainable Aviation Chair Adam Morton said: “The Transport Secretary is absolutely right that sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) will be essential if we are to achieve Jet Zero. SAF technology is available now, can cut carbon by at least 70% compared with fossil fuels and requires no modifications to existing aircraft or refuelling infrastructure. They can also be produced throughout the UK, creating tens of thousands of jobs and generating billions of pounds for our economy in remaining and former industrial regions.
“Establishing the UK’s Jet Zero Council was a big step forward. The necessary private sector investment is poised to invest, get the first SAF facilities up and running, and fuelling flights by the middle of this decade. However, to make this a reality, the Government needs to urgently accelerate its support for this nascent industry. Most importantly, this means introducing a mandate and commercialisation policy to reduce the overall risk of these early projects. With the right action from Government in 2021, the UK can lead the world in both sustainable aviation fuel and deliver Jet Zero.”
The Interim Report of the Union Connectivity Review is published