Shapps launches ‘Acceleration Unit’ to speed up transport infrastructure projects

Move comes as Crossrail bosses reveal line will cost an extra £450m and not open until 2022
Jonathan Brady/PA

By Jim Dunton

21 Aug 2020

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced the creation of a new team of specialists who will be tasked with helping the Department for Transport speed up delivery of infrastructure projects.

The so-called Acceleration Unit will be led by Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Darren Shirley and will advise the department on ways to tackle delays to infrastructure projects and drive forward progress for passengers.

DfT said the unit would also engage experts with significant experience in delivering infrastructure projects. It named Highways England director of complex infrastructure projects Chris Taylor, who oversaw the construction of the £1.5bn A14 scheme, and Mark Reynolds, chief executive of Mace, which oversaw the construction of east London’s Nightingale hospital earlier this year.

The creation of the Acceleration Unit coincides with the identification of £360m in Treasury funding for road and rail investment, earmarked to spur the nation’s economy into recovery mode following the Covid-19 lockdown.

Shapps said the unit would be in place from next month and would be directly accountable to him.

“As Britain begins to get moving once again after four months of lockdown, no-one should underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead,” he said.

“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.”

DfT said the unit's creation followed the establishment of a new Northern Transport Acceleration Council, dedicated to swiftly improving infrastructure across towns and cities in the north, forming a direct link between Westminster and local leaders.

Fresh Crossrail woe

Shapps’s announcement came on the same day that it emerged trans-capital rail link Crossrail needs an additional £450m in funding over and above its most recent estimate, taking its projected cost to £18.7bn.

The delay-plagued project, originally due to open in late 2018 to a budget of £14.8m, will not now see its central tunnelled section open until 2022, the Crossrail Ltd project team update said.

Crossrail Ltd chief executive Mark Wild said delivery of the project – which will be named the Elizabeth Line when it is finished – was now in its complex final stages but was being “completed at a time of great uncertainty” because of the risk and potential impact of further Covid outbreaks. 

“We are working tirelessly to complete the remaining infrastructure works so that we can fully test the railway and successfully transition the project as an operational railway to Transport for London,” he said.

While the mayor of London’s transport organisation is Crossrail Ltd’s parent body, DfT is joint sponsor for the Crossrail project. MPs on parliament's Public Accounts Committee last year said the department was “ultimately responsible” for the use of taxpayers’ money on the project.

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